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Full Online Book HomeEssaysAmong My Books - Second Series - WORDSWORTH. Continues 2 - Footnotes 323 - 357
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Among My Books - Second Series - WORDSWORTH. Continues 2 - Footnotes 323 - 357 Post by :Paul_Schlegel Category :Essays Author :James Russell Lowell Date :April 2012 Read :3350

Click below to download : Among My Books - Second Series - WORDSWORTH. Continues 2 - Footnotes 323 - 357 (Format : PDF)

Among My Books - Second Series - WORDSWORTH. Continues 2 - Footnotes 323 - 357

WORDSWORTH. Continues 2 - Footnotes 323 - 357

(323) "I pay many little visits to the family in the churchyard at Grasmere," writes James Dixon (an old servant of Wordsworth) to Crabb Robinson, with a simple, one might almost say canine pathos, thirteen years after his master's death. Wordsworth was always considerate and kind with his servants, Robinson tells us.

(324) In the Prelude he attributes this consecreation to a sunrise seen (during a college vacation) as he walked homeward from some village festival where he had danced all night--

"My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows
Were then made for me; bond unknown to me
Was given that I should be, else sinning greatly,
A dedicated spirit."--B. IV.


(325) Prelude, Book II.


(326)
"I to the muses have been bound,
These fourteen years, by strong indentures."

_Idiot Boy (1798).

(327) I think this more than doubtful, for I find no traces of the influence of any of these poets in his earlier writings. Goldsmith was evidently his model in the Descriptive Sketches and the Evening Walk. I speak of them as originally printed.

(328) Prelude, Book III. He studied Italian also at Cambridge, his teacher, whose name was Isola, had formerly taught the poet Gray. It may be pretty certainly inferred, however, that his first systematic study of English poetry was due to the copy of Andersen's British Poets, left with him by his sailor brother John on setting out for his last voyage in 1805.

(329) Prelude, Book VII. Written before 1805, and referring to a still earlier date. "Wordsworth went in powder, and with cocked hat under his arm, to the Marchioness of Stafford's rout." (Southey to Miss Barker, May, 1806.)

(330) This was probably one reason for the long suppression of Miss Wordsworth's journal, which she had evidently prepared for publication as early as 1805.

(331) Crabb Robinson, I. 250, Am. Ed.

(332) Wordsworth's purity afterwards grew sensitive almost to prudery. The late Mr. Clough told me that he heard him at Dr. Arnold's table denounce the first line in Keats's Ode to a Grecian Urn as indecent, and Haydon records that when he saw the group of Cupid and Psyche he exclaimed, "The dev-ils!"

(333) The whole passage is omitted in the revised edition. The original, a quarto pamphlet, is now very rare, but fortunately Charles Lamb's copy of it is now owned by my friend Professor C. E. Norton.

(334) Wordsworth showed his habitual good sense in never sharing, so far as is known, the communistic dreams of his friends Coleridge and Southey. The latter of the two had, to be sure, renounced them shortly after his marriage, and before his acquaintance with Wordsworth began. But Coleridge seems to have clung to them longer. There is a passage in one of his letters to Cottle (without date, but apparently written in the spring of 1798) which would imply that Wordsworth had been accused of some kind of social heresy. "Wordsworth has been caballed against _so long and so loudly that he has found it impossible to prevail on the tenant of the Allfoxden estate to let him the house after their first agreement is expired." Perhaps, after all, it was Wordsworth's insulation of character and habitual want of sympathy with anything but the moods of his own mind that rendered him incapable of this copartnery of enthusiasm. He appears to have regarded even his sister Dora (whom he certainly loved as much as it was possible for him to love anything but his own poems) as a kind of tributary dependency of his genius, much as a mountain might look down on one of its ancillary spurs.

(335) Speaking to one of his neighbors in 1845 he said, "that, after he had finished his college course, he was in great doubt as to what his future employment should be. He did not feel himself good enough for the Church; he felt that his mind was not properly disciplined for that holy office, and that the struggle between his conscience and his impulses would have made life a torture. He also shrank from the Law, although Southey often told him that he was well fitted for the higher parts of the profession. He had studied military history with great interest, and the strategy of war, and he always fancied that he had talents for command, and he at one time thought of a military life, but then he was without connections, and he felt, if he were ordered to the West Indies, his talents would not save him from the yellow fever, and he gave that up." (Memoirs, II. 466.) It is curious to fancy Wordsworth a soldier. Certain points of likeness between him and Wellington have often struck me. They resemble each other in practical good sense, fidelity to duty, courage, and also in a kind of precise uprightness which made their personal character somewhat uninteresting. But what was decorum in Wellington was piety in Woidsworth, and the entire absence of imagination (the great point of dissimilarity) perhaps helped as much as anything to make Wellington a great commander.

(336) Cottle says, "The sale was so slow and the severity of most of the reviews so great that its progress to oblivion seemed to be certain." But the notices in the Monthly and Critical Reviews (then the most influential) were fair, and indeed favorable, especially to Wordsworth's share in the volume. The Monthly says, "So much genius and originality are discovered in this publication that we wish to see another from the same hand." The Critical, after saying that "in the whole range of English, poetry we scarcely recollect anything superior to a passage in Lines written near Tintern Abbey," sums up thus: "Yet every piece discovers genius; and ill as the author has frequently employed his talents, they certainly rank him with the best of living poets." Such treatment cannot surely be called discouraging.

(337) A very improbable story of Coleridge's in the Biographia Literaria represents the two friends as having incurred a suspicion of treasonable dealings with the French enemy by their constant references to a certain "Spy Nosey." The story at least seems to show how they pronounced the name, which was exactly in accordance with the usage of the last generation in New England.

(338) Wordsworth found (as other original minds have since done) a hearing in America sooner than in England. James Humphreys, a Philadelphia bookseller, was encouraged by a sufficient _list of subscribers to reprint the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads. The second English edition, however, having been published before he had wholly completed his reprinting, was substantially followed in the first American, which was published in 1802.

(339) Some of the weightiest passages in this Preface, as it is now printed, were inserted without notice of date in the edition of 1815.

(340) "On my alluding to the line,

"'Three feet long and two feet wide,'

"and confessing that I dared not read them aloud in company, he said, 'They ought to be liked.'" (Crabb Robinson, 9th May, 1815.) His ordinary answer to criticisms was that he considered the power to appreciate the passage criticised as a test of the critic's capacity to judge of poetry at all.

(341) Byron, then in his twentieth year, wrote a review of these volumes not, on the whole, unfair. Crabb Robinson is reported as saying that Wordsworth was indignant at the Edinburgh Review's attack on Hours of Idleness. "The young man will do something if he goes on," he said.

(342) The Rev. Dr. Wordsworth has encumbered the memory of his uncle with two volumes of Memoirs, which for confused dreariness are only matched by the Rev. Mark Noble's "History of the Protectorate House of Cromwell." It is a misfortune that his materials were not put into the hands of Professor Reed, whose notes to the American edition are among the most valuable parts of it, as they certainly are the clearest. The book contains, however, some valuable letters of Wordsworth, and those relating to this part of his life should be read by every student of his works, for the light they throw upon the principles which governed him in the composition of his poems. In a letter to Lady Beaumont (May 21, 1807) he says, "Trouble not yourself upon their present reception, of what moment is that compared with what I trust is their destiny!--to console the afflicted, to add sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier; to teach the young and the gracious of every age, to see, to think and feel, and therefore to become more actively and securely virtuous; this is their office, which I trust they will faithfully perform long after we (that is all that is mortal of us) are mouldered in our graves.... To conclude, my ears are stone dead to this idle buzz (of hostile criticism) and my flesh as insensible as iron to these petty stings and; after what I have said, I am sure yours will be the same I doubt not that you will share with me an invincible confidence that my writings (and among them these little poems) will co-operate with the benign tendencies in human nature and society wherever found; and that they will in their degree be efficacious in making men wiser, better, and happier." Here is an odd reversal of the ordinary relation between an unpopular poet and his little public of admirers; it is he who keeps up their spirits, and supplies them with faith from his own inexhaustible cistern.

(343) "Wordsworth's pamphlet will fail of producing any general effect, because the sentences are long and involved; and his friend De Quincey, who corrected the press, has rendered them more obscure by an unusual system of punctuation." (Southey to Scott, 30th July, 1809.) The tract is, as Southey hints, heavy.

(344) The first essay in the third volume of the second edition.

(345) Wordsworth's children were,-- John, born 18th June, 1803; still living; a clergyman. Dorothy, born 16th August, 1804; died 9th July, 1847. Thomas, born 16th June, 1806; died 1st December, 1812. Catharine, born 6th September, 1808; died 4th June, 1812. William, born 12th May, 1810; succeeded his father as Stamp-Distributor.

(346) Good luck (in the sense of _Chance_) seems properly to be the occurrence of Opportunity to one who has neither deserved nor knows how to use it. In such hands it commonly turns to ill luck. Moore's Bermudan appointment is an instance of it Wordsworth had a sound common-sense and practical conscientiousness, which enabled him to fil his office as well as Dr. Franklin could have done. A fitter man could not have been found in Westmoreland.

(347)
"I am not one who much or oft delight
In personal talk."


(348) How far he swung backward toward the school under whose influence he grew up, and toward the style against which he had protested so vigorously, a few examples will show. The advocate of the language of common life has a verse in his Thanksgiving Ode which, if one met with it by itself, he would think the achievement of some later copyist of Pope:--

"While the _tubed engine (the organ) feels the inspiring blast."

And in "The Italian Itinerant" and "The Swiss Goatherd" we find a thermometer or barometer called

"The well-wrought scale
Whose sentient tube instructs to time
A purpose to a fickle clime."

Still worse in the "Eclipse of the Sun," 1821:--

"High on her speculative tower
Stood Science, waiting for the hour
When Sol was destined to endure
That darkening."

So in "The Excursion,"

"The cold March wind raised in her tender throat Viewless obstructions."

(349) According to Landor, he pronounced all Scott's poetry to be "not worth five shillings."

(350) Prelude, Book VI.

(351) This was instinctively felt, even by his admirers. Miss Martineau said to Crabb Robinson in 1839, speaking of Wordsworth's conversation: "Sometimes he is annoying from the pertinacity with which he dwells on trifles; at other times he flows on in the utmost grandeur, leaving a strong impression of inspiration." Robinson tells us that he read "Resolution" and "Independence" to a lady who was affected by it even to tears, and then said, "I have not heard anything for years that so much delighted me; but, _after all, it is not poetry_."

(352) Nowhere is this displayed with more comic self-complacency than when he thought it needful to rewrite the ballad of Helen of Kirconnel,--a poem hardly to be matched in any language for swiftness of movement and savage sincerity of feeling. Its shuddering compression is masterly. Compare

"Curst be the heart that thought the thought,
And curst the hand that fired the shot,
When in my arms burd Helen dropt,
That died to succor me!
O, think ye not my heart was sair
When my love dropt down and spake na mair?"

compare this with,--

"Proud Gordon cannot bear the thoughts
That through his brain are travelling,
And, starting up, to Bruce's heart
He launched a deadly javelin:
Fair Ellen saw it when it came,
And, _stepping forth to meet the same_,
Did with her body cover
The Youth, her chosen lover.
* * * * *
"And Bruce (_as soon, as he had slain
The Gordon_) sailed away to Spain,
And fought with rage incessant
Against the Moorish Crescent."

These are surely the verses of an attorney's clerk "penning a stanza when he should engross." It will be noticed that Wordsworth here also departs from his earlier theory of the language of poetry by substituting a javelin for a bullet as less modern and familiar. Had he written,--

"And Gordon never gave a hint,
But, having somewhat picked his flint,
Let fly the fatal bullet
That killed that lovely pullet,"

it would hardly have seemed more like a parody than the rest. He shows the same insensibility in a note upon the Ancient Mariner in the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads: "The poem of my friend has indeed great defects; first, that the principal person has no distinct character, either in his profession of mariner, or as a human being who, having been long under the control of supernatural impressions, might be supposed himself to partake of something supernatural; secondly, that he does not act, but is continually acted upon; thirdly, that the events, having no necessary connection, do not produce each other; and lastly, that the imagery is somewhat laboriously accumulated." Here is an indictment, to be sure, and drawn, plainly enough, by the attorney's clerk aforenamed. One would think that the strange charm of Coleridge's most truly original poems lay in this very emancipation from the laws of cause and effect.

(353)
"A hundred times when, roving high and low,
I have been harassed with the toil of verse,
Much pains and little progress, and at once
Some lovely Image in the song rose up,
Full formed, like Venus rising from the sea."

_Prelude_, Book IV.

(354) Mr. Emerson tells us that he was at first tempted to smile, and Mr. Ellis Yarnall (who saw him in his eightieth year) says, "These quotations (from his own works) he read in a way that much impressed me; it seemed almost as if he were _awed by the greatness of his own power, the gifts with which he had been endowed_." (The italics are mine.)

(355) His best poetry was written when he was under the immediate influence of Coleridge. Coleridge seems to have felt this, for it is evidently to Wordsworth that he alludes when he speaks of "those who have been so well pleased that I should, year after year, flow with a hundred nameless rills into _their main stream." (Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of S.T.C., Vol. I. pp. 5-6.) "Wordsworth found fault with the repetition of the concluding sound of the participles in Shakespeare's line about bees:

"'The singing masons building roofs of gold.'

"This, he said, was a line that Milton never would have written. Keats thought, on the other hand, that the repetition was in harmony with the continued note of the singers." (Leigh Hunt's Autobiography.) Wordsworth writes to Crabb Robinson in 1837, "My ear is susceptible to the clashing of sounds almost to disease." One cannot help thinking that his training in these niceties was begun by Coleridge.

(356) In the Preface to his translation of the Orlando Furioso.

(357) In "Resolution" and "Independence".

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