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Nature herself—as he remarks in a passage which breaks off suddenly in the midst of a metaphysical argument — Nature herself employs means to thwart this tyranny of the several senses by setting each of them to counteract the other, and by subduing each, in its highest developments, to the powers of the will and the intellect. His thraldom to the objects of sight, though it seemed to spring from causes “ inherent in the creature,” is lamented by Wordsworth as an intoxication, an excess incident to youth. Women, he says, escape it ; with them the heart governs the eye, not the eye the heart; and he tells of one whom he knew (his sister Dorothy, no doubt), how
Wise as women are
The same difference of character in the sexes is noted by Chaucer in his tale of the Princess Canace
She was ful mesurable, as wommen be;
and when the revellers were preparing to turn night into day, she thought of the necessities of the morrow, and took leave of her father to go
But this measurable disposition, though it is the soul of wisdom and sanity, is not the begetter of poetry. If Wordsworth’s transports of affection for the sights and sounds of Nature were,
as he says, not profound, they were strong enough to survive the clash with thought, and to take on new life in more fruitful and enduring forms.
So far as the tale of his early converse with Nature can be disengaged from the reflection and argument in which he swathes it, the impression it makes is the same throughout. It is a tale of a smothered fire, of fierce loves and wild feasts of the senses celebrated in solitude, of superstitious fears, and of joy so jealous of control that it shuns all contact with thought. But the malady of thought is an inevitable malady, and there is no good immunity from it to be had by shunning the infection. The escape from it is only for those whose system it has permeated ; they alone may dare to hold it cheap. When Wordsworth depreciates the ardours and passions of his youth, it is because, looking back on them, he sees the peril of the course they have yet to run, and vainly dreams of precautions that might be taken to save them from the long disease that lies in wait for them. But this is to wish them weaker, and it was by their strength that they survived. When he became an apostle, with the joy of life for his gospel, the experiences of his early unthinking days gave him matter for his most moving and heart-felt discourses. An earlier ordination would have robbed him of half his message.
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION : COLERIDGE
At a time when the study of literary influences, the influence of nation on nation, of poet on poet, of book on book, threatens to claim the whole field of literary history, the case of Wordsworth has a special interest. The rainbow of Romanticism has been unweaved ; the imports of Romanticism have been traced to the places of their growth. One man read Shakespeare ; another buried himself in Northern mythology ; a third, weary of the monotony of his own good sense and sound judgment, brought drugs and perfumes from the East. A whole tribe of workers busied themselves with the resuscitation of the ideas and arts of the Middle Ages. And it cannot be denied that the Middle Ages, misunderstood, in its own way and for its own purposes, by the Eighteenth Century, furnished the most picturesque part of its outfit to the Romantic Revival. Of all literary influences in the England of the close of
the century Percy's Relique's was incomparably the most powerful. But the complex machinery of loans, imports, bequests, letters of credit, and orders of affiliation does not in the end explain Romanticism. The compass of human expression is limited ; the variations of human thought are, after all, slight variations; and an age that seeks expression for its philosophy is always to be found wisely foraging in the storehouse of the past. Its philosophy, nevertheless, is its own, and, unless it is no better than a foolish imitation, derives from experience of life. One and the same tendency of thought and feeling, resulting from the pressure of a single age and civilisation on the eternal motives of human nature, is manifested in many minds at the same time; and then, and then only, does the search for expression begin.
It is the interest of Wordsworth's career, studied as an episode in literary history, that it takes us at once to the root of the matter, and shows us the genesis of poetry from its living material, without literary intermediary. The influence of the Reliques, the reaction from the “gaudy and inane phraseology” of the school of Pope, though both are to be reckoned with, are symptoms merely, indications of the natural affinities and differences of a poetry which sprang neither from imitation nor from disgust. The
dominant passion of Wordsworth's life owed nothing to books. There was for him no question of the return to Nature ; he had never deserted her. There was a question, nevertheless, akin to this, suggested by the events of his own time, which he wrestled with and solved. The horrors of the French Revolution cast a doubt on the legitimacy of his youthful joys and discoloured his view of human nature. When he regained his delight in nature and his faith in man, and taught that delight and that faith to others, it was a triumph for the deepest of the feelings that had given strength and vogue to the doctrine of Rousseau, the father of the literary Romantics. So it is that Wordsworth's poetic career is a history of Romanticism in epitome. The country-bred youth was marked by fate to be the champion of the ideas that turned the current of European thought; and while those ideas were struggling darkly and confusedly in the arena of the Revolution, soiled with dust and blood, he was winning for them a pure and lasting victory elsewhere. His simple fidelity to his memories and his severe devotion to truth earned him his success where others, more sumptuously equipped, had been betrayed by the deceits of the heart. If Rousseau had survived to witness the Revolution, would he have kept the kernel of his faith ; or would he rather have been found, blinded by clouds of vanity