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companion who possessed more than his share of the hatred, which his countrymen bore to the French, had just observed to me, “A Frenchman, Sir! is the only animal in the human shape, that by no possibility can lift itself up to religion or poetry :" when, lo! two French officers of distinction and rank entered the church ! “ Mark you,” whispered the Prussian, “the first thing, which those scoundrels—will notice-(for they will begin by instantly noticing the statue in parts, without one moment's pause of admiration impressed by the whole)—will be the horns and the beard. And the associations, which they will immediately connect with them will be those of a he-goat and a cuckold.” Never did man guess more luckily. Had he inherited a portion of the great legislator's prophetic powers, whose statue we had been contemplating, he could scarcely have uttered words more coincident with the result: for even as he had said, so it came to pass.
In THE EXCURSION the poet has introduced an old man, born in humble but not abject circumstances, who had enjoyed more than usual advantages of education, both from books and from the more awful discipline of nature. This person he represents, as having been driven by the restlessness of fervid feelings, and from a craving intellect to an itinerant life; and as having in consequence passed the larger portion of his time, from earliest manhood, in villages and hamlets from door to door,
“A vagrant Merchant bent beneath his load."* Now whether this be a character appropriate to a lofty didactic poem, is perhaps questionable. It presents a fair subject for controversy ; and the question is to be determined by the congruity or incongruity of such a character with what shall be proved to be the essential constituents of poetry. But surely the critic who, passing by all the opportunities which such a mode of life would present to such a man; all the advantages of the liberty of nature, of solitude, and of solitary thought; all the varieties of places and seasons, through which his track had lain, with all the varying imagery they bring with them; and lastly, all the observations of men,
(“A vagrant Merchant under a heavy load
Book I. P. W. vol. vi. p. 15, edit. of 1840.-S. C.]
“Their manners, their enjoyments, and pursuits,
Their passions and their feelingswhich the memory of these yearly journeys must have given and recalled to such a mind—the critic, I say, who from the multitude of possible associations should pass by all these in order to fix his attention exclusively on the pin-papers, and stay-tapes, which might have been among the wares of his pack; this critic, in my opinion, can not be thought to possess a much higher or much healthier state of moral feeling, than the Frenchmen above re'corded.
THE CHARACTERISTIC DEFECTS OF WORDSWORTH'S POETRY, WITH
THE PRINCIPLES FROM WHICH THE JUDGMENT, THAT THEY ARE DEFECTS, IS DEDUCED-THEIR PROPORTION TO THE BEAUTIES
FOR THE GREATEST PART CHARACTERISTIC OF HIS THEORY
IF Mr. Wordsworth have set forth principles of poetry which his arguments are insufficient to support, let him and those who have adopted his sentiments be set right by the confutation of those arguments, and by the substitution of more philosophical principles. And still let the due credit be given to the portion and importance of the truths, which are blended with his theory; truths, the too exclusive attention to which had occasioned its errors, by tempting him to carry those truths beyond their proper limits. If his mistaken theory have at all influenced his poetic compositions, let the effects be pointed out, and the instances given. But let it likewise be shown, how far the influence has acted; whether diffusively, or only by starts ; whether the number and importance of the poems and passages thus infected be great or trifling compared with the sound portion ; and lastly, whether they are inwoven into the texture of his works, or are loose and separable. The result of such a trial would evince beyond a doubt, what it is high time to announce decisively and
* [Book I. P. W. vol. vi. p. 15, last edit.-S. C.]
aloud, that the supposed characteristics of Mr. Wordsworth's poetry, whether admired or reprobated; whether they are simplicity or simpleness ; faithful adherence to essential nature, or wilful selections from human nature of its meanest forms and under the least attractive associations; are as little the real characteristics of his poetry at large, as of his genius and the constitution of his mind.
In a comparatively small number of poems he chose to try an experiment; and this experiment we will suppose to have failed. Yet even in these poems it is impossible not to perceive that the natural tendency of the poet's mind is to great objects and elevated conceptions. The poem entitled FIDELITY* is for the greater part written in language, as unraised and naked as any perhaps in the two volumes. Yet take the following stanza and compare it with the preceding stanzas of the same poem.
“There sometimes doth a leaping fish
But that enormous barrier holds it fast." Or compare the four last lines of the concluding stanza with the former half :
“ Yes, proof was plain that, since the day
On which the Traveller thus had died,
gave that strength of feeling, great
Can any candid and intelligent mind hesitate in determining, which of these best represents the tendency and native character of the poet's genius? Will he not decide that the one was writ
* (P. W. v. p. 43.-S. C.]
ten because the poet would so write, and the other because he could not so entirely repress the force and grandeur of his mind, but that he must in some part or other of every composition write otherwise ? In short, that his only disease is the being out of his element ; like the swan, that, having amused himself, for a while, with crushing the weeds on the river's bank, soon returns to his own majestic movements on its reflecting and sustaining surface. Let it be observed that I am here supposing the imagined judge, to whom I appeal, to have already decided against the poet's theory, as far as it is different from the principles of the art, generally acknowledged.
I can not here enter into a detailed examination of Mr. Wordsworth’s works ; but I will attempt to give the main results of my own judgment, after an acquaintance of many years, and repeated perusals. And though, to appreciate the defects of a great mind, it is necessary to understand previously its characteristic excellences, yet I have already expressed myself with sufficient fulness, to preclude most of the ill effects that might arise from my pursuing a contrary arrangement.
I will therefore commence with what I deem the prominent defects of his poems hitherto published.
The first characteristic, though only occasional defect, which I appear to myself to find in these poems is the inconstancy of the style. Under this name I refer to the sudden and unprepared transitions from lines or sentences of peculiar felicity-(at all events striking and original)—to a style, not only unimpassioned but undistinguished. He sinks too often and too abruptly to that style, which I should place in the second division of language, dividing it into the three species ; first, that which is peculiar to poetry ; second, that which is only proper in prose ; and third, the neutral or common to both. There have been works, such as Cowley's Essay on Cromwell,* in which prose and verse are
* [This is an eloquent declamation against Cromwell, in the guise of an argument, the defence of “the late man, who made himself to be called Protector," being put into the mouth of one whose appearance was “strange and terrible," and whose figure was taller than that of a giant, or “the shadow of any giant in the evening.” This personage turns out to be the Wicked One himself, and the discourse which he utters is, indeed, most dramatically appropriate to bim, however unserviceable to the cause of Cromwell. After despatching the Protector's religion and morals, disparaging his powers, reducing his parts to diligence and dissimulation, and
intermixed (not as in the Consolation of Boetius,* or the ARGENIS of Barclay,t by the insertion of poems supposed to have been spoken or composed on occasions previously related in prose, but) the poet passing from one to the other, as the nature of the thoughts or his own feelings dictated. Yet this mode of composition does not satisfy a cultivated taste. There is something unpleasant in the being thus obliged to alternate states of feeling so dissimilar, and this too in a species of writing, the pleasure from which is in part derived from the preparation and previous expectation of the reader. A portion of that awkwardness is felt which hangs upon the introduction of songs in our modern comic operas ; and to prevent which the judicious Metastasio (as to whose exquisite taste there can be no hesitation, whatever
making away with his achievements at home and abroad, or bringing them very nearly to nothing, the Evil One's opponent proceeds to demolish bis intellectual pretensions; and here he attacks him on the side of his speeches, which Mr. Carlyle has lately brought forth from the shadows in which they have so long been lying.
According to this essay, all the war and bloodshed at the time of the Rebellion, was on account of "a little ship-money,” or to revenge the loss “ of three or four ears,"—not to decide whether the country was to be governed by an absolute or a limited monarchy; whether the Church of England should be approximated to Rome or maintained in the spirit of the Reformation ; whether ecclesiastical rulers were to fine, scourge, mutilate, and immure for life in wretched prisons any who opposed their views and proceedings, or whether they must learn to uphold the Church in a manner more conformable to Christianity, Yet Cowley, while he thus could represent the cause of Hampden, exalts that of Brutus !-whom Dante places for his rebellion in the lowest deep of punishment; such is poetical injustice! Methinks this whole discourse against old Noll is like "the shadow of a giant in the evening”—big and black, but of no force or substance.
Cowley wrote eleven other discourses hy way of essays in verse and prose, ib. pp. 79–148. This remarkable writer and worthy man died July 28, 1667, aged forty-nine.-S. C.)
[An. Manl. Sever. Boëtii Consolationis Philosophic, Lib. v. Boëtius or Boëthius, was born about A.D. 470.-S. C.]
+ [The Argenis, quoted toward the end of chap. ix. is a sort of didactic romance, in imitation of the Satyricon of Petronius. The author, John Barclay, was born 1582, died 1621. He flourished at the Court of James I. (who was delighted with his Satyricon Euphormionis)and published, beside several prose works, a collection of poems in two vols. 4to. It is said that his prose is superior to his verse, but that all his works discover wit and genius.-S. C.]