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victim among the Brissotins, with whom he was intimately connected, and who were cut off by their rivals, the Jacobins, at the close of the following May. Reluctantly he tore himself from Paris ; but before a few months had elapsed, he acknowledged that in so doing he had been rescued “ by the gracious Providence of heaven.” 1
He returned to England at the close of 1792. His brother Richard was then settled as a solicitor in London ; John was returning from the Azores ; Christopher was at Trinity College, Cambridge, to which he had been sent by his uncle Crackanthorpe. “William,” says his sister, in a letter bearing date 220 December, 1792, and written from the house of Dr. Cookson, at Forncett, “is in London ; he writes to me regularly, and is a most affectionate brother."
1 Prelude, p. 276.
FEELINGS AND OPINIONS ON RETURNING FROM FRANCE TO
ENGLAND,-CHOICE OF PROFESSION.
It has already been recorded, that some of Wordsworth's relations were desirous that he should take holy orders in the Church of England ; and it appears from some of his letters at this period, that their wishes had much weight with him, and that he now entertained the design of qualifying himself for the clerical profession.
But there were many impediments in the way of the accomplishment of this plan. The first and foremost was the state of his own mind. He had embarked in the cause of the French Revolution with eager enthusiasm and sanguine expectations. The course which events had now taken in that country was such as to damp his ardour and check his aspirations. But he could not as yet prevail upon himself to abandon his political theory. He clung to it with unflinching tenacity. And yet the crimes of which the professed partisans of liberty had been guilty, and were still perpetrating in her name, shook his faith in the existence of human virtue, and almost compelled him to sit down in rnisanthropic sadness and sullen despair.
A pamphlet which he wrote on his return to England, but never published, entitled “A Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff on the political Principles contained in an Appendix to one of his Lordship’s recent Sermons,” exhibits the state of his mind at that time. The sentiments avowed in it are republican. He declares himself an enemy to an hereditary monarchy and an hereditary peerage, and to all social privileges and distinctions, except such as are conferred by the elective voice of the people. He expresses a deep feeling of sorrow and commiseration for the wrongs suffered by human nature under existing governments; and, having fixed his mind on these melancholy results, and brooding upon them, he identified monarchy with its abuses, and looked for a correction of them all to the unexplored Utopia of democracy.
Yet feeling as he did very strongly on these points, he abhorred violence. He shrunk with execration from the inhuman means which some, whose aims he admired, had adopted, and were still employing, for attaining their ends. In one of his letters to his friend Mathews, he thus speaks: “I disapprove of monarchical and aristocratical governments, however modified. Hereditary distinctions, and privileged orders of every species, I think, must necessarily counteract the progress of human improvement. Hence it follows, that I am not among the admirers of the British constitution. I conceive that a more excellent system of civil policy might be established among us; yet in my ardour to attain the goal, I do not forget the nature of the ground where the race is to be run. The destruction of those institutions which I condemn, appears to me to be hastening on too rapidly. I recoil from the very idea of a revolution. I am a determined enemy to every species of violence. I see no connection, but what the obstinacy of pride and ignorance renders necessary, between justice and the sword, — between reason and bonds. I deplore the miserable condition of the French, and think that we can only be guarded from the same scourge by the undaunted efforts of good men. . . . . I severely condemn all inflammatory addresses to the passions of men.
I know that the multitude walk in darkness. I would put into each man's hands a lantern, to guide him; and not have him to set out upon his journey depending for illumination on abortive flashes of lightning, or the coruscations of transitory meteors."
Such were his sentiments. It is evident that whatever sympathy he might meet with in his theory, he would find little co-operation in practice. Hence, he was in the condition of one who sees his fairest expectations blighted, and his brightest visions melting away.
His distress consequent on his disappointment was proportionate to the confidence with which he looked forward to the realisation of his hopes.
Another circumstance gave a severe shock to his moral being. Hitherto his own country had remained neuter. England had looked on the French Revolution with suspicion and uneasiness, but had taken no part in the struggle. But after the death of the King of France, on January 21st, 1793, the case was altered. She would not maintain amicable relation with a regicide republic, and made preparations for war with France.
At that time, the summer of 1793, Wordsworth was in the Isle of Wight with a friend, Mr. William Calvert. Night after night he listened to the cannon fired at sunset from Portsmouth; and his mind was filled with gloomy forebodings with respect to the issue for which the fleet was there being equipped':
“ Each evening, pacing by the still sea-shore,
A monitory sound that never failed, -
After leaving the Isle of Wight, Wordsworth spent two days in wandering on foot over the dreary waste of Salisbury Plain, and thence proceeded by Bristol and Tintern up the Wye, and so to North Wales. On Salisbury Plain he commenced the poem which once bore the name of the plain where the scene is laid, but was afterwards published in part under the title of the “Female Vagrant,” and finally under that of “ Guilt and Sorrow." 3
It is composed with great vigour, abundantly suffi. cient to prove to the author and his friends, that he would be justified in devoting himself to poetry as a profession. At the same time, it is impressed with a character of sadness congenial to the state of his own mind at that time. He had now completed his twenty-third year,
and was of an age to receive holy orders. But he was not prepared for such a step. His mind had been disturbed by public affairs, and as yet it had not
Prelude, p. 278. 280. 302. 304. 2 Prelude, p. 280. ; see also the prefatory notice to “Guilt and Sorrow," vol. i. p. 40.
3 Vol. i. p. 40–63.