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THE NATIONAL REVIEW.
ART. I.-WILLIAM WORDSWORTH.
William Wordsworth. A Biography. By Edwin Paxton Hood. London: W. and F. G. Cash. 1856.
MR. HOOD's life of Wordsworth is written with a violent desire to be transcendental. It indicates some real love for Wordsworth's poetry, and some confused insight into its character; but it is rendered extremely unpleasant and unreadable by agonising eloquence, and the strained mannerisms of an attitudinising philosophy. The style is grandiose, and the thought is hopelessly tangled, with now and then a gleam of true criticism; but for the rest, consisting of a bewildered mass of vague and half-seen analogies. Thus we are told of the "identity between the mind of Wordsworth and the mind of the ancient Pelasgian;" a supposed identity which is illustrated by a most trying burst of eloquence concerning the Pleiades and fair-haired blossoms, and love blotted out by gloom, and, in short, all the abysses. Again, we have a very long dissertation indeed on the essence of Grecian drama, only, as it appears, because Wordsworth is held to be Grecian, and is not held to be dramatic. The volume is fatally incoherent, and tainted throughout with that most painful of all literary plagues, the vanity of fine writing. We regret this the more, because there are not wanting in the book glimpses of really earnest personal conviction and genuine admiration for the theme; but these are all but smothered in the artificial excitements of the volcanic school of literature. We lay down the book with something not unlike, perhaps, what its author meant (if he had meaning) by that magnificent expression which he has discovered for us, "an awful hieroglyphic sigh."
It is strange that so gaudy an essay should have been written on such a theme. Coleridge, indeed, speaks of the "strange
No. VII. JANuary 1857.
mistake, so slightly grounded, yet so widely and industriously propagated, of Mr. Wordsworth's simplicity" yet assuredly, though not, perhaps, in the sense in which Coleridge ridicules the assertion, the most striking characteristic of Wordsworth's mind and poetry is its essential simplicity. Simplicity of character, simplicity of purpose, simplicity of style, all mark Wordsworth in an extraordinary degree. His was a very strong plain character, and, considering its intellectual depth, remarkably circumscribed in its limits of emotion, taste, and sympathy; but within those limits balanced and harmonious, and distinguished from common characters of like simplicity by two remarkable gifts-a musing eye turned inwards on the depths of that simple life which, in other like-minded men, expresses itself only through outward interests,—and a passionate visionary love for all those living beings and objects and scenes which fed his contemplative humour and filled his imagination without imposing the galling restraint of foreign influence. These two gifts were, indeed, powerful enough to give a cast to his poetry which has made much of it uninteresting or unintelligible to ordinary men. Few men are of a musing cast of mind, and therefore, however otherwise similar in structure their character may be to Wordsworth's own, they take no delight in watching the fresh bubbles of thought rise to the surface from the depths of that clear and crystal well, nor do they recognise them again as the imprisoned breath of joy which gives freshness and elasticity to their own lives, even if they be persuaded for a moment to stand and watch. But though the appearance of simplicity in Wordsworth may be obscured by the tendency to gaze back into the sources of life, instead of looking forward into action, yet this one imaginative peculiarity only brings out the essential simplicity of his character with greater distinctness,-rendering more marked that settled preference for the common, daily, quiet, natural interests on which all human minds can rest, over those special and accidental excitements which only an unusual combination of circumstances can produce, yet on which most poets rely for their inspiration.
There are two different ideas which we commonly mean to express when we speak of simplicity of character. A simple character properly means one of which the essence shines out most completely and brightly at every point, which most keeps and displays its fundamental identity in every action and thought, so that it does not need to be slowly interpreted and pieced together from a wide surface of experience, but is seen at once to be really the same in the most different attitudes. In this sense, for instance (in which simplicity means transparency), we say that Shelley had one of the simplest of characters, Byron one of