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CONTINUATION OF TIIE PRELUDE, OR GROWTH OF
A POET'S MIND.” 1
In the month of June, 1805, four months after his brother's death, Wordsworth brought to a close the long and elaborate poem on which he had been engaged at intervals for more than six years. This was “ The Prelude, or Growth of his own Mind," in fourteen books. The sorrow he felt at his brother's loss vents itself in the conclusion of the poem. Alluding to that calamity, he says,
1 See above, Chapter XV.
2 Coleridge, to whom “The Prelude” is addressed, is related to have expressed himself in the following terms on this subject. (Table Talk. London, 1835. Vol. ii. p. 70.) “I cannot help regretting that Wordsworth did not first publish his thirteen (fourteen) books on the growth of an individual mind — superior, as I used to think, upon the whole, to “The Excursion. You may judge how I felt about them by my own Poem upon the occasion. Then the plan laid out, and, I believe, partly suggested by me, was, that Wordsworth should assume the station of a man in mental repose, one whose principles were made up, and so prepared to deliver upon authority a system of philosophy. He was to treat man as man,-a subject of eye, ear, touch, and taste, in contact with external nature, and informing the senses from the mind, and not compounding a mind out of the senses; then he was to describe the pastoral and other states of society, assuming something of the Juvenalian spirit as he approached the high civilization of cities and towns, and opening a melancholy picture of the present state of degeneracy and vice; thence he was to infer and reveal the proof of, and necessity for, the whole state of man and society being subject to, and illustrative of, a redemptive process in operation, showing how this idea reconciled all the anomalies, and promised future glory and restoration. Something of this sort was, I think, agreed on. It is, in substance, what I hare been all my life doing in my system of philosophy.
• Poetical Works, vol. i. p. 206. .
“ The last and later portions of this gift
Keen and enduring. The earlier parts of this poem (as has been already stated), were poured forth in a joyful effusion, .when the Poet issued from the gates of the imperial city of Goslar,
“ Where he long had pined,
in the spring of 1799.3 At the close of 1803 or beginning of 1804 (the letter bears no date), he says, from Grasmere, to his friend Wrangham, “ I am engaged in writing a poem on my own earlier Life. Three books are nearly finished. My other meditated works are a philosophical poem, and a narrative one : these two will employ me several years.”
He was engaged on the sixth book of “The Prelude" (which is entitled “ Cambridge and the Alps”) in April, 1804, for he there says,
“I think Wordsworth possessed more of the genius of a great philosophic poet than any man I ever knew, or, as I believe, has existed in England since Milton; but it seems to me that he ought never to have abandoned the contemplative position which is peculiarly - perhaps, I might say exclusively-fitted for him. His proper title is Spectator ab extru." 1 P. 370. 2 Prelude, p. 3. and P.
“ Four years and thirty, told this very week,
Have I been now a sojourner on earth,
The work proceeded rapidly in the autumn of 1804. On the 25th Dec. of that year, he thus writes to Sir G. Beaumont :
To Sir George Beaumont, Bart.
“ Grasmere, Dec. 25. 1804. “My dear Sir George, “ You will be pleased to hear that I have been advancing with my work : I have written upwards of 2000 verses during the last ten weeks. I do not know if you are exactly acquainted with the plan of my poetical labour : it is twofold ; first, a Poem, to be called “The Recluse;' in which it will be my object to express in verse my most interesting feelings concerning man, nature, and society; and next, a poem (in which I am at present chiefly engaged) on my earlier life, or the growth of my own mind, taken up upon a large scale. This latter work I expect to have finished before the month of May; and then I purpose to fall with all my might on the former, which is the chief object upon which my thoughts have been fixed these many years. Of this poem, that of “ The Pedlar, which Coleridge read you, is part, and I may have written of it altogether about 2000 lines. It will consist, I hope, of about ten or twelve thousand.”
1 The Excursion. “ The Pedlar” was the title once proposed, from the character of the Wanderer, but abandoned.
Ile was employed on the seventh book in the beginning of 1805.
“ Six changeful years have vanished since I first
A glad preamble to this verse. The spring of 1805 appears to have been very favourable to his efforts. He thus writes concerning his progress:
To Sir George Beaumont, Bart.
“ Grasmere, May 1. 1805. "My dear Sir George, “I have wished to write to you every day this long time, but I have also had another wish, which has interfered to prevent me; I mean the wish to resume my poctical labours: time was stealing away fast from me, and nothing done, and my mind still seeming unfit to do anything. At first I had a strong inpulse to write a poem that should record my brother's virtues, and be worthy of his memory. I began to give vent to my feelings, with this view, but I was overpowered by my subject, and could not proceed. I composed much, but it is all lost except a few lines, as it came from me in such a torrent that I was unable to remember it. I could not hold the pen myself, and the subject was such that I could not employ Mrs. Wordsworth or my sister as my amanuensis. This work must therefore rest awhile till I am something calmer; I shall, however, never be at peace till, as far as in me lies, I have done justice to my departed bro
ther's memory. His heroic death (the particulars of which I have now accurately collected from several of the sorrowers) exacts this from me, and still more his singularly interesting character, and virtuous and innocent life.
“ Unable to proceed with this work, I turned my thoughts again to the Poem on my own Life, and you will be glad to hear that I have added 300 lines to it in the course of last week. Two books more will conclude it. It will be not much less than 9000 lines, - not hundred but thousand lines long, -an alarming length! and a thing unprecedented in literary history that a man should talk so much about himself. It is not self-conceit, as you will know well, that has induced me to do this, but real humility. I began the work because I was unprepared to treat any more ardugus subject, and diffident of my own powers. Here, at least, I hoped that to a certain degree I should be sure of succeeding, as I had nothing to do but describe what I had felt and thought, and therefore could not easily be bewildered. This might have been done in narrower compass by a man of more address; but I have done my best. If, when the work shall be finished, it appears to the judicious to have redundancies, they shall be lopped off, if possible; but this is very difficult to do, when a man has written with thought; and this defect whenever I have suspected it or found it to exist in any writings of mine, I have always found incurable. The fault lies too deep, and is in the first conception. If you see Coleridge before I do, do not speak of this to him, as I should like to have his judgment unpreoccupied by such an apprehension. I wish much to have your further opinion of the young Roscius, above all of his Hamlet.'