ePub 版


The most, perhaps, that can be said in favor of these principles is that, without being absolutely true, they contain elements of truth. Like Burns, Wordsworth has conferred a blessing on humanity in pointing out the beauty of commonplace objects and incidents. We cannot spare "We are Seven," or Michael," which ought to be one of our most popular poems. His naturalness of diction is to be commended. Yet it must be said that Wordsworth sometimes carries his principles to a ridiculous extent. When he hits upon phrases like "dear brother Jim," and objects like “skimmed milk," and "A household tub, like one of those

Which women use to wash their clothes,"

his greatest admirers are forced to grieve.

Wordsworth's life in the Lake District was characterized by great simplicity. There were no stirring events, no great changes. His resources were increased by the payment of an old debt due his father's estate. His marriage, in 1802, to Miss Mary Hutchinson, brought into his home a real helpmate. Though decidedly domestic in her turn, she was not without poetic feeling, and appreciated her husband's genius. The poet paid her this glowing tribute:

"A being breathing thoughtful breath,

A traveller between life and death;

The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;

A perfect woman nobly planned,

To warn, to comfort, and command;

And yet a spirit still, and bright

With something of angelic light."

With true feminine tact she presided over the poet's home, and softened as far as possible the unconscious egotism into which his retirement and contemplation had betrayed him. Dorothy Wordsworth shared their home. The life of this happy family was an illustration of "plain living and high thinking." Much time was spent in the open air, and every

foot of ground in the neighborhood was traversed by the poet and his sister. A large part of his verse was composed during these daily rambles. While extending a cordial welcome to congenial friends, - DeQuincey, Coleridge, Wilson, Southey, and others, he cared little for neighborhood gossip. To him it was a fruitless waste of time. As he tells us in the sonnets entitled "Personal Talk:

[ocr errors]

"Better than such discourse doth silence long,

Long, barren silence, square with my desire;
To sit without emotion, hope, or aim,

In the loved presence of my cottage fire,
And listen to the flapping of the flame,

Or kettle whispering its faint undersong."

This quiet, humble, reflective life is beautiful; yet it has its objectionable features. It leads to narrow and one-sided views of life. It is not the way in which to develop a strong or heroic character. Yet it was adapted to Wordsworth's genius, and produced a rich fruitage.

The first great sorrow that came into the poet's life was the death of his brother John, captain of an East Indiaman. His vessel was wrecked in 1805, and sank with the captain at his post of duty. He had several years previously spent a few months at Grasmere, and was looking forward to the time when he might settle there for life.

A strong attachment existed between him and his brother. It was but natural, therefore, that the poet should write: "For myself, I feel that there is something cut out of my life which cannot be restored. I never thought of him but with hope and delight. We looked forward to the time, not distant, as we thought, when he would settle near us when the task of his life would be over, and he would have nothing to do but reap his reward. . . . I never wrote a line without the thought of giving him pleasure; my writings, printed and manuscript, were his delight, and one of the chief solaces of his long voyages." The same year saw the death of Nelson at Trafalgar. The death of the hero brought grief to the national heart.

Combining the traits of his brother John and Admiral Nelson, Wordsworth composed "The Happy Warrior," a poem of great dignity and weight — a veritable manual of greatness. Who is the happy warrior? He who owes,—

"To virtue every triumph that he knows;
Who, if he rise to station of command,
Rises by open means; and there will stand
On honorable terms, or else retire,
And in himself possess his own desire;
Who comprehends his trust, and to the same
Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim;
And therefore does not stoop nor lie in wait
For wealth, or honors, or for worldly state;
Whom they must follow, on whose head must fall,
Like showers of manna, if they come at all."


Every year increased the number of notable poems. are two or three that deserve especial mention as embodying peculiar views-to some extent Wordsworth's philosophy of life. In a little poem called "The Rainbow," he says:

"My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!

The child is father of the man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety."

Far more is here expressed than appears at first reading. "Wordsworth holds," to adopt the excellent interpretation by Myers, "that the instincts and pleasures of a healthy childhood sufficiently indicate the lines on which our maturer character should be formed. The joy which began in the mere sense of existence should be maintained by hopeful faith; the simplicity which began in inexperience should be recovered by meditation; the love which originated in the family circle should expand itself over the race of men." In the "Ode to Duty,"

one of Wordworth's noblest productions, we meet with this "genial sense of youth :

"Serene will be our days and bright,

And happy will our nature be,

When love is an unerring light,

And joy its own security."

In the "Ode on Immortality," in which we have perhaps the highest attainment of poetry in this century, he makes use of the Platonic doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul to account for the glory that hovers over the visible world in childhood. As the child looks upon the various objects of earth and sky, he unconsciously invests them, the poet says, with the splendor of the spiritual world from which he has come. But as life advances, these recollections of a previous existence become fainter and fainter, and at last the world degenerates into a commonplace reality. Now read these splendid lines :—

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison house begin to close

Upon the growing boy,

But he beholds the light and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy;

The youth, who daily further from the east

Must travel, still is nature's priest,

And by the vision splendid

Is on his way attended;

At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day."

In 1813 Wordsworth removed to Rydal Mount, where he spent the rest of his life. With increasing family — three sons

and two daughters had been born unto him

came increasing wants and expenditures. His good fortune did not desert him. He was appointed distributer of stamps for the county of Westmoreland an office that brought him little labor, but five hun

dred pounds a year.

The following year he published "The Excursion," a tedious and prosaic poem relieved here and there with passages of surpassing beauty. It was coldly received, and proved a financial loss. Jeffrey began a famous review with the contemptuous sentence, "This will never do." Up to this time Wordsworth had been the subject of continuously unfavorable criticism. No other writer, perhaps, ever had so protracted a struggle to gain a proper recognition.

But through all this long period of misrepresentation and detraction, Wordsworth did not lose confidence in himself. His genius was its own sufficient witness. He felt a pity for the ignorance of the world, but looked forward to a time when the merits of his poetry would be recognized. Writing to a friend, he says: "Let me confine myself to my object, which is to make you, my dear friend, as easy hearted as myself with respect to these poems. 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." What in many a man would savor of egotism comes from the lips of Wordsworth with the calm dignity of conscious strength.

His hopes were not disappointed. The latter years of his life brought him great popularity and honor. In 1839 the University of Oxford conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Civil Law; three years later the government granted him a pension of three hundred pounds; and upon the death of

« 上一頁繼續 »