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NEVER were the predictions of a prophet more fully verified than the anticipations of ultimate fame entertained by William Wordsworth. Through half a century he bravely and perseveringly contended against the bitter animadversions of the most highly esteemed critic of the age and the chilling neglect of the public ; trusting to the genius which inspired him, and confiding in the certain triumph of the truthful and the beautiful ;-never did the lamp even flicker, but burnt steadily, Brightly; intensely on. Whilst living, he had little more than the gratification of seeing his works appreciated by the discerning few; but, with the never-failing power of that which is really good, the circle is now so far extended that he has a hundred readers where, five-and-twenty years ago, he had one.
In compliance with this vastly increased demand, we put forth a cheap edition of his Poetry, availing ourselves of every piece which expired copyright places within our reach.
THE LIFE OF WORDSWORTH.
Why should the life of a poet be written? May it not be said, as Atterbury asserted, when it was decided by the assembled wits to place the best epitaph upon a tomb that ever was chiselled, “Dryden' is enough; they who know his works want no more, they who do not know them would not be enlightened by the most eloquent eulogy ?” May it not be observed, I say, that in the poetry posterity will have all it will desire to know of the Poet? In a great measure it is so; but still there is a praiseworthy curiosity to learn hor “he lived, and moved, and had his being," who has so greatly contributed to our pleasure and instruction. The battles of the Hero may be compared to the poems of the Poet; we are anxious to follow the former to his hearth-stone, and see how he looked in his robe de chambre, among the ties that bind common men ; why then should we not have the same feeling towards the Poet? His poems may become as famous as the battles, and exercise as much influence over his race. Where would the memory of the heroes of the Iliad now be without the songs of Homer?
Lord Byron, in one of his letters to Moore, says, “I cannot get people to understand that poetry is the expression of excited passion; and that there is no such thing as a life of passion any more than of a continuous earthquake or an eternal fire ;" which would imply, that a life could not be all poetry. To this opinion his lordship’s own life was a partial contradiction, and that of Wordsworth a complete one. Poetry was the very essence of his being ;" in it he lived and breathed. Like the philosopher in "Rasselas,” he thought that “nothing could be useless to the poet. Whatever is beautiful, and whatever is dreadful, must be familiar to his imagination : he must be conversant with all that is awfully vast or elegantly little." From the great and beautiful objects of nature, the mighty ocean, the glorious rising and setting sun, the imposing mountain, the cataract or gently-gliding stream, the sweet flower, even to the meanest utensil or tool, the pail or spade, nothing with him was void of poetry: he was “of imagination all compact;" and as Shakespeare's banished duke found “good in everything,” so did Wordsworth's poetic mind find that for which his spirit always thirsted, in objects which to others would seem prosaic and barren : he wrote as he lived, he lived as he wrote,
This life, then, was the “passion” which Byron falsely pronounced to be impossible to be continuous, as Wordsworth proves himself, when he says :
“The sounding cataract
But, in addition to this, Wordsworth’s was a metaphysical as well as an imaginative mind, and the two faculties worked constantly together. He says he "employed them upon the worthiest objects,—the external universe, the moral and religious sentiments of man, the natural affections, and his acquired passions ; which have the same ennobling tendency as the productions of men, in this kind, worthy to be holden in undying remembrance.”
With most of us poetry is a luxury, to be indulged in occasionally only, for fear of being cloyed; but with Wordsworth it was common food, the very“ daily bread” he prayed for. Throughout life he directed all his views, all his energies, to this one object, more persistently, more continuously, than even the most ambitious have pursued wealth and honours. He always contrived to reside in romantic spots, rich in the beauties of nature ; he made tours in all directions to store his mind with imagery, travelling (as Rousseau tells us all should who wish to observe or learn) on foot; he formed friendships only with men of the same tone of mind, and was happy to meet in Coleridge, Lamb, and, in a degree, in Southey, with responding sympathies. But his sister was, undoubtedly, the star of his destiny. She was not only the blood relation, she was even more than a kindred spirit,-she was an inspiring influence. I will even venture to say that to her he owes most of the elevation and depth of his poetry : his own genius might have confined him to the metaphysical, to the poetry of the pretty, the little, the odd; it was hers that raised it to the deeply-feeling, the beautiful, and the sublime. His poems may be said to be the emanations of two minds more completely than any other union of the kind in the history of literature. Let the reader only peruse a few of Miss Wordsworth's letters, or portions of her diaries, and then judge if I am not right. For a man of Wordsworth's temperament, it is almost impossible to limit the influence of such an association. An object of respect and warm affection, always with him, talking with him, reading with him, making pedestrian tours with him, in search of common objects, exchanging every thought with him, communicating every idea ; and add to this the charm of her being a woman, whose delicacy throws a glowing but a refining tint over everything, and, in her case, without the intervention of passion -- let us, I say, reflect upon this, and we must be convinced that Dora Wordsworth was to her brother William a benign genius, a guiding angel. She was never married ; and though occasionally absent from him in early life, he, as he expresses it, was restored
his “sole sister" in 1794, and they after that never parted till death forced them asunder. Even when married, and happily married, his sister is his companion, it appears to us, more than his wife. He did not effect anything of consequence before this union took place, and, after that, his muse was never idle : it is almost impossible to conceive a man so constantly occupied in writing poetry. The most common occurrence, the most apparently insignificant meeting with person or thing, the flattest every-day-life incident,--all served as subjects for poetry. To minds tuned up to the full bent, this may have been delicious fairy life, but we greatly fear that to men and women of the working-day world it would soon become intolerable. This sort of abstraction, or concentration rather of powers to one object, produced its natural consequence of egotism. Out of his own peculiar clique, Wordsworth undervalued the talents of others, and certainly, however we may admire him, and however satisfied we may be that his reputation is becoming daily greater, we cannot escape the conviction that his genius anc its productions will never stand so high in the estimation of any one as they did in his own. It was a favourite idea with himself and Coleridge, to draw comparisons between him and Milton ; whereas, with the exception of Milton's sonnets, it is impossible to institute any. Wordsworth is a great poet, one who will, perhaps, live for ages—but he is not a John Milton.
In his admirable essay, he says, “In the higher poetry, an enlightened critic chiefly looks for a reflection of the wisdom of the heart and the grandeur of the imagination. Wherever these appear, simplicity accompanies them : Magnificence herself, when legitimate, depending upon simplicity, of her own, to regulate her ornaments.” In this we find not only the grounds of his beauties, but what I conceive to be his error. Whether I mistake his sense of the word, or not, I cannot tell, but he seems to overrate simplicity; from deeming simplicity a necessary ornament to higher qualities, he raised it to the rank of the principal ; and where he found simplicity, he found all other beauties. It requires a mind to be deeply perceptive to do this ; and hence the length of time necessary to bring him the reputation that is his due : for he did really find subject for profoundest reflection and sympathies in