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Confederate, imitative of the chase
And woodland pleasures,-the resounding horn,
Of melancholy, not unnoticed, while the stars,
Influence of Natural Objects, pp. 34, 35.
The objection formerly urged by most of the critics was, that the topics of this author were so injudiciously chosen that no power of imagination and fancy could clothe them with beauty, and render them attractive. But Wordsworth has vindicated the power of his art, by showing that the most ordinary "household truths"-the love that flourishes around a cottage fire-side-the commonest events in life, and the most familiar objects in nature-furnish themes capable of exciting the strongest feelings of the human heart, when these ordinary truths or objects are presented in the new light which imagination can throw around them. But we need not adduce illustrations here in proof of the assertion, that this poet possesses the power of imagination in the fullest and loftiest acceptation of the word. It is stamped upon every page of the writings before us. Open the volume where you will, you shall find a passage in which this rarest faculty of the human intellect has been employed
"to add the gleam,
The consecration, and the poet's dream"
to some object of natural beauty, or to some great truth of humanity. The following extract is at once a splendid description and illustration of this mental power:—
"Within the soul a faculty abides
That, with interpositions which would hide
Excursion, p. 432.
We conclude our notice of the excellences of this poet, by adopting the language of Hazlitt: "Mr. Wordsworth is the most original poet now living." He has opened up in the human heart new fountains of thought and feeling, and new powers of appreciating and
enjoying the beauty of the universe. In the depth of his retirement he has found time for long and serious meditation
"On man, on nature, and on human life;"
and having felt in his inmost soul,
"that fear and awe
Which fall upon us often when we look
Into our minds,-into the mind of man—
his thoughts have a freshness and vigor springing directly from his habits of profound and meditative observation;-and his works abound in single passages of striking beauty, which fix themselves at once in the memory of the reader, not merely from their novelty -for that is an attribute of many poems, which are simply reproductions of other men's thoughts-but from their originality.
Having thus noticed a few of the many excellences of our author, we proceed now to point out,-with fear and trembling, indeed,-what we consider to be his defects. Southey considered it the greatest of all advantages that he had spent the best half of his life in conversation with books rather than with men. With due deference to the opinion of so great a poet, we are inclined to question the value of such an education. Wordsworth has been a student not of books only, but of nature. Still, the very fact that he has been shut out so long from the world, that his ear has been so long unaccustomed to the busy hum of cities, that he has stood apart from the struggles, anxieties, and difficulties of the time,—a calm contemplator indeed, but rarely, if ever, a participator in the activity and bustle of existence has prevented him, and we believe it alone has prevented him from rivaling Shakspeare in the life-likeness of his delineations of character, as well as of his descriptions of natural scenery. His maxim is, indeed, Nihil humani a me alienum puto; and it is well developed in his manifold illustrations of human feeling, especially of the more tender emotions: he sympathizes with every sorrowful, and with every joyful heart in the universe; he finds "grateful haunts" in studying
"How exquisitely the individual mind
(And the progressive powers, perhaps, no less
The external world is fitted to the mind."
But, on the other hand, he finds it hard
Works, p. 394.
"to travel near the tribes
And fellowships of men, and see ill sights
And although it is necessary for the development of his high argument in the great poem which we have just quoted, that all these scenes should receive their "authentic comment," the author is far more successful in treating of the general features of the mind, in
illustrating universal truths, in unfolding his sublime philosophy, or in painting scenes of natural beauty, than in giving naturalness to his characters and fitness to the circumstances into which he throws them. There is nothing dramatic in our author's muse. There is, indeed, nothing egotistical, nothing of Byron's disgusting my-selfism, in our poet's pure and elevated strains, but every subject and scene and character takes the hue and coloring of his own mind; and you can detect their origin at a glance, not merely from the peculiarities of his style, but from an inner spirit,-a Wordsworthianism—which cannot be mistaken. His characters are not struck off in a moment, by a word, or an incident, as many of Shakspeare's are; but there is an elaborate minuteness of description, an earnest effort to make a full impression, by adding feature to feature, accident to accident; all which is contrary to the rules and spirit of genuine poetry.
Had Wordsworth remained true to his own theory of poetic diction, and carried it out in all his writings with as much fidelity as in a few of his earlier productions, we should consider it necessary to point out a few of its errors; but he has not done so. He has built up his fame, not by means of his theory, but in spite of it; or, rather, by rising above it; he has framed a poetic diction of his own, combining within itself all the elements of strength and beauty, glowing with the richest graces, possessing an unrivalled flexibility and softness, and being withal as individual and as easily recognizable as that of Shakspeare or Milton.
But we must hasten to the second branch of our subject--the moral and religious bearing of our author's writings. To the faithful student of Wordsworth's poetry, not a word need be said on this point; but, if we can induce any to become such by a few remarks on the purity of his moral sentiments, and the depth and intensity of his religious feelings, we shall be well repaid. Words worth is emphatically a religious, nay, a Christian poet. He has gone to the purest of all sources for his inspiration-the book of God: his soul has been deeply imbued with the love of God and man; when he looks upon the world of nature, it is only to behold in every thing which God has made the impress of his hand; when he looks upon his fellow-man, it is with the warm sympathy of Christian benevolence, elevated and refined by a far-seeing faith; and with his soul thus expanded by the influence of religion he pours forth his songs of high encouragement to man, or humble thanksgiving to God. True to his own sentiment, that "poetry is most just to its own divine origin when it administers the comforts and breathes the spirit of religion," he finds his most congenial employment in imbodying the consolations of his elevated faith in simple narratives, or in lofty odes; and the "spirit of religion" is infused into all his compositions, whether expressly treating of religious themes or not. So that his high praise is, that, although he does not always sing of religion, he sings of all things in a religious mood;-in a frame of mind to be obtained only in answer to such prayers, as
"Father! thou must lead.
By which such virtue may in me be bred
Works, p. 184.
We claim something more then for the poet than the mere nega. tive excellence, that the general scope of his writings is inoffensive. Could we go no further, however, it would be a higher eulogy than can be bestowed upon any other poet who has written so much, and filled so large a space in the public eye, to say, that in all this large volume, from beginning to end, there is not a stanza, not a line, not a word, which the author "dying would wish to blot," on account of immoral tendency. How striking is the contrast between the judgment that must be honestly pronounced upon the works of Lord Byron, and that which can, with equal honesty, be awarded to those of Wordsworth! In the former hardly a page is to be found unblotted by impurity, indelicacy, or blasphemy! There is grandeur, there is sublimity, there is power; but it is the grandeur of hell-the sublimity of despair-the power of a fiend! He knew not how to describe the pure affections of humanity, for he dwelt in the atmosphere of passion alone; all nature was darkened by his misanthropy; man was to him a libertine-woman a slave! In the latter, the purest mind will find choice fields to roam in, filled with the fragrance of sweet flowers, the flowers of virtue and religion: no unholy thought-no impure imaginationno indelicate allusion, can find a place in his pages: he dwells in an atmosphere of religious purity, never tainted by the breath of sin: he is sublime, but it is in illustrating some great truth of philosophy or religion, or in describing some of the glories of the natural world; and that world is to him an image of its Creator, reflecting from a thousand points the light of His countenance, and exciting within his soul a fervor of devotion such as he himself describes in the following magnificent verses :—
"He beheld the sun
Rise up, and bathe the world in light! He looked-
And ocean's liquid mass, beneath him lay
In gladness and deep joy. The clouds were touched,
Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired."
Excursion, book i, p. 397.
But we have a still higher eulogium to pronounce upon our author than the merely negative praise, that his writings, unlike those of Byron, Shelly, Moore, and a host of feebler poets, can do no harm. There is a high moral purpose pervading them all
sometimes more prominent,—at other times less so,-but never lost sight of the purpose, namely, of inculcating the great lessons of confidence in God, of the weakness of human nature, of human responsibility, and of the high dignities to which God calls the mind of man! The reader of these poems is constantly undergoing a process of indirect moral culture; and when he rises up from a careful perusal of any of them, it is not with excited passions, or a fevered imagination, but with his soul subdued by a sense of the divine goodness, or filled with images of beauty from the works of God, or excited to self-examination, or, perhaps, to indignation against himself that he has so long limited his thoughts and confined his affections to the material world around him. He will learn, at least, the invaluable lesson, that
"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Miscell. Sonnets, p. 185.
Where shall be found a more beautiful spiritualization of sensible things than in the poem "On the Power of Sound?" and where a more sublime song of praise to the great Author of all harmonies than its concluding stanzas?
"Break forth into thanksgiving,
Ye banded instruments of wind and chords;
Unite, to magnify the Ever-living,
Your inarticulate notes with the voice of words!
Nor hushed be service from the lowing mead,
Nor mute the forest hum of noon;
Thou too be heard, lone eagle! freed
All worlds, all natures, mood and measures keep
Into the ear of God, their Lord!
A Voice to light gave being;
To time, and man his earth-born chronicler ;
A Voice shall finish doubt and dim foreseeing,
And sweep away life's visionary stir;
The trumpet, (we, intoxicate with pride,
To archangelic lips applied,
The grave shall open, quench the stars.
No more than moments of thy life?
Is harmony, blest queen of smiles and tears,