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and sentiment, urging on the murderous fury of the mob?
The Revolution, in its earlier phases, involved no revolution in Wordsworth's mental life. In common with a large number of his countrymen, he accepted it gladly, and expected for its principles a peaceful and beneficent triumph. The societies with which he had been most familiar in his youth were, as he explains, essentially democratic in their basis. Among the dalesmen of Cumberland there reigned an absolute equality. The sole distinguished individual of each of these valley communities was their minister, who, except on the Sabbath day, differed not at all in clothing or in manner of life from themselves. “Everything else, person and possession, exhibited a perfect equality, a community of shepherds and agriculturists, proprietors, for the most part, of the lands which they occupied and cultivated.” At Cambridge, again, he found that strong infusion of democratic principles which from the first has been the mark of university life
All stood thus far
Political problems were almost indifferent to him; they seemed cold and theoretic; and history
was valued only as another form of fiction, a collection of tales that
made the heart
Even after his first visit to France his attitude was little changed. The walking tour in Switzerland that he adventured with his friend Robert Jones took him on foot through France, going and returning When he saw the Brabant armies making ready for war, he says,
I looked upon these things
The joy of life and the sure and easy faith in a glorious outcome for the new spirit of fraternity possessed him, to the exclusion of reflection. Kings had never impressed his imagination, and he was willing to do without them.
The record of this first visit to France supplies an interesting comment on the usual conception of Wordsworth's character. He was naturally, he says, of a violent, impulsive, and passionate disposition. But to most of those who make acquaintance with him he is known as the solitary of the Lakes, the embodiment of mild wisdom and gentle precept, who was to be seen day by day wandering on the public roads muttering to himself. Many of his critics find in him too little of those
qualities of the beast of prey which seem essential to a full manhood, too much of the patient agrarian animal, grazing and ruminating. His own comparison between the nightingale and the stock-dove lends itself to this conception. The fierce and tumultuous song of the nightingale appeals to him less than the homely tale of the dove :
This studied quietness and self-control were not habitual with him from the first. The enthusiasm of his younger heart in greeting the Revolution was like the aching joys and dizzy raptures that filled him in the presence of Nature. Both in the history recorded in the Prelude and in the account given in the Excursion of how the Solitary was awakened from the despondency of his bereavement there is evidence enough of the buoyancy and fervour of his early years.
When he and his friend first landed in France the national rejoicings,
Songs, garlands, mirth,
captured all his ardour for the cause :
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
The attraction of a country in romance ! The pair of romantic adventurers was ready to share in all the festivity of the time. At Lyons they fell in with a company of delegates returning from Paris, and sailed with them down the Rhone.
In this proud company
Those who knew him only when his youth was past were never privileged to hear Wordsworth boisterous with wine and mirth, or to see him keeping revel by dancing round and round the
Perhaps, twenty-five years later, the
memory of this gleeful scene helped him to his spirited defence of the convivial exaltation of Tam o'shanter, as drawn by Burns.
« Permit me to remind you,” he says in his Letter to a Friend of Robert Burns, “that it is the privilege of poetic genius to catch, under certain restrictions, of which,
perhaps, at the time of its being exerted it is but dimly conscious, a spirit of pleasure wherever it can be found—in the walks of nature and in the business of men. The poet, trusting to primary instincts, luxuriates among the felicities of love and wine, and is enraptured while he describes the fairer aspects of war; nor does he shrink from the company of the passion of love though immoderate —from convivial pleasure though intemperate -nor from the presence of war though savage, and recognised as the handmaid of desolation.” In society as well as in nature Wordsworth had learned the secret of whole-hearted pleasure ; and when he came to theory he boldly insisted, in spite of a didactic age, on the single necessity laid on every poet, the necessity of giving pleasure. For himself—and he never was tired of telling it—he found that
Pleasure is spread through the earth In stray gifts, to be claimed by whoever shall find; and his own zest was so keen that his youth, it might plausibly be said, burned itself out prematurely, and delivered him over to a prolonged, majestic middle age.
From November 1791 onward Wordsworth was in France again for more than a year. He held introductions to aristocratic society, but, growing weary of a conversation that busied itself with anything rather than the living interests of