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show that men who do not wear fine clothes can feel deeply. * Pectus enim est quod disertos facit, et vis mentis. Ideoque imperitis quoque, si modo sint aliquo affectu concitati, verba non desunt.' The poems are faithful copies from Nature; and I hope whatever effect they may have upon you, you will at least be able to perceive that they may excite profitable sympathies in many kind and good hearts, and may in some small degree enlarge our feelings of reverence for our species, and our knowledge of human nature, by showing that our best qualities are possessed by men whom we are too apt to consider, not with reference to the points in which they resemble us, but to those in which they manifestly differ from us. I thought, at a time when these feelings are sapped in so many ways, that the two poems might co-operate, however feebly, with the illustrious efforts which you have made to stem this and other evils with which the country is labouring; and it is on this account alone that I have taken the liberty of thus addressing you.
Wishing earnestly that the time may come when the country may perceive what it has lost by neglecting your advice, and hoping that your latter days may be attended with health and comfort,
Fox's reply was as follows:
I owe you many apologies for having so long deferred thanking you for your poems, and your obliging letter accompanying them, which I received early in March. The poems have given me the greatest pleasure; and if I were obliged to choose out of them, I do not know whether I should not say that 'Harry Gill,' 'We are Seven,' "The Mad Mother,' and * The Idiot,' are my favourites. I read with particular attention the two you pointed out; but whether it be from early prepossessions, or whatever other cause, I am no great friend to blank verse for subjects which are to be treated of with simplicity.
Memoirs, vol. i. pp. 166-171.
You will excuse my stating my opinion to you so freely, which I should not do if I did not really admire many of the poems in the collection, and many parts even of those in blank verse. Of the
poems which you state not to be yours, that entitled “Love' appears to me to be the best, and I do not know who is the author. “The Nightingale' I understand to be Mr. Coleridge's,
. who combats, I think, very successfully, the mistaken prejudice of the nightingale's note being melancholy. I am, with great truth,
C. J. Fox.*
In connection with the above the following observations addressed by Wordsworth to some friends fitly find a place here.
Speaking of the poem of the Leech-Gatherer, t sent in Ms.,
• It is not a matter of indifference whether you are pleased with his figure and employment, it may be comparatively whether you are pleased with this Poem; but it is of the utmost importance that you should have had pleasure in contemplating the fortitude, independence, persevering spirit, and the general moral dignity of this old man's character.'
And again, on the same poem :
'I will explain to you, in prose, my feelings in writing that poem... I describe myself as having been exalted to the highest pitch of delight by the joyousness and beauty of Nature; and then as depressed, even in the midst of those beautiful objects, to the lowest dejection and despair. A young poet in the midst of the happiness of Nature is described as overwhelmed by the thoughts of the miserable reverses which have befallen the happiest of all men, viz. poets. I think of this till I am so deeply impressed with it, that I consider the manner in which I was rescued from my dejection and despair almost as an interposition of Providence. A person reading the poem with feelings like mine will have been awed and controlled, expecting something spiritual or supernatural. What is brought forward ? A
* Memoirs, vol. i. pp. 171-2. † Entitled · Resolution and Independence.'
lonely place, “a pond, by which an old man was, far from all house or home :" not stood, nor sat, but was—the figure presented in the 'most naked simplicity possible. This feeling of spirituality or supernaturalness is again referred to as being strong in my mind in this passage. How came he here? thought I, or what can he be doing? I then describe him, whether ill or well is not for me to judge with perfect confidence; but this I can confidently affirm, that though I believe God has given me a strong imagination, I cannot conceive a figure more impressive than that of an old man like this, the survivor of a wife and ten children, travelling alone among the mountains and all lonely places, carrying with him his own fortitude and the necessities which an unjust state of society has laid upon him. You speak of his speech as tedious. Everything is tedious when one does not read with the feelings of the author. “The Thorn” is tedious to hundreds; and so is the "Idiot Boy” to hundreds. It is in the character of the old man to tell his story, which an impatient reader must feel tedious. But, good heavens ! such a figure, in such a place; a pious, self-respecting, miserably infirm and pleased old man telling such a tale!
Your feelings upon the "Mother and the Boy, with the Butterfly,” were not indifferent: it was an affair of whole continents of moral sympathy.'
'I am for the most part uncertain about my success in altering poems; but in this case,' speaking of an insertion, 'I am sure I have produced a great improvement.'*
* Memoirs, vol. i. pp. 166-174.
(h) OF THE PRINCIPLES OF POETRY AND HIS OWN
POEMS. Letter to (afterwards) Professor John Wilson [ Christopher North'].
Had it not been for a very amiable modesty you could not have imagined that your letter could give me any offence. It was on many accounts highly grateful to me. I was pleased to find that I had given so much pleasure to an ingenuous and able mind, and I further considered the enjoyment which you had had from my Poems as an earnest that others might be delighted with them in the same, or a like manner. It is plain from your letter that the pleasure which I have given you has not been blind or unthinking; you have studied the poems, and prove that you have entered into the spirit of them. They have not given you a cheap or vulgar pleasure; therefore, I feel that you are entitled to my kindest thanks for having done some violence to your natural diffidence in the communication which you have made to me.
There is scarcely any part of your letter that does not deserve particular notice; but partly from some constitutional infirmities, and partly from certain habits of mind, I do not write any letters unless upon business, not even to my dearest friends. Except during absence from my own family I have not written five letters of friendship during the last five years. I have mentioned this in order that I may retain your good opinion, should my letter be less minute than you are entitled to expect. You seem to be desirous of my opinion on the influence of natural objects in forming the character of Nations. This cannot be understood without first considering their influence upon men in general, first, with reference to such objects as are common to all countries; and, next, such as belong exclusively to any particular country, or in a greater degree to it than to another, Now it is manifest that no human being can be so besotted and debased by oppression, penury, or any other evil which unhumanises man, as to be utterly insensible to the colours, forms,
or smell of flowers, the (voices*] and motions of birds and beasts, the appearances of the sky and heavenly bodies, the general warmth of a fine day, the terror and uncomfortableness of a storm, &c. &c. How dead soever many full-grown men may outwardly seem to these things, all are more or less affected by them; and in childhood, in the first practice and exercise of their senses, they must have been not the nourishers merely, but often the fathers of their passions. There cannot The a doubt that in tracts of country where images of danger, melancholy, grandeur, or loveliness, softness, and ease prevail, that they will make themselves felt powerfully in forming the characters of the people, so as to produce an uniformity or national character, where the nation is small and is not made up of men who, inhabiting different soils, climates, &c., by their civil usages and relations materially interfere with each other. It was so formerly, no doubt, in the Highlands of Scotland; but we cannot perhaps observe much of in our own island at the present day, because, even in the most sequestered places, by manufactures, traffic, religion, law, interchange of inhabitants, &c., distinctions are done away, which would otherwise have been strong and obvious. This complex state of society does not, however, prevent the characters of individuals from frequently receiving a strong bias, not merely from the impressions of general Nature, but also from local objects and images. But it seems that to produce these effects, in the degree in which we frequently find them to be produced, there must be a peculiar sensibility of original organisation combining with moral accidents, as is exhibited in ‘THE BROTHERS' and in 'Ruth;' I mean, to produce this in a marked degree; not that I believe that any man was ever brought up in the country without loving it, especially in his better moments, or in a district of particular grandeur or beauty without feeling some stronger attachment to it on that account than he would otherwise have felt. I include, you will observe, in these considerations, the influence of climate, changes in the atmosphere and elements, and the labours and occupations which particular districts require.
You begin what you say upon the Idiot Boy,' with this observation, that nothing is a fit subject for poetry which does not
* Parts of this letter have been torn, and words have been lost; some of which are here conjecturally supplied between brackets.