« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Other merits than those already mentioned they certainly did not possess.
WORDSWORTH had fallen deeply in love with the district in which he was born by the time he was seventeen, and it was with much pain of mind that he turned his back on the lakes and mountains, and departed in the autumn of 1787 to take up his residence at Cambridge. We do not hear much of his life or his studies at the University, but it is known that he continually pined for his native wilds, and escaped to their familiar and more congenial scenes on every favourable opportunity. He was no hard worker; sometimes he would take a turn at classics, sometimes at mathematics, but he continually thought, and indulged his favourite habit of meditation in the silence of the academic halls. At first he joined with eagerness in all the pleasures and amusements which belong to 'varsity life ; but he soon tired of these and gave himself up more and more to the companionship of his books and the promptings of the nature which remained by him, even amongst the flat fens of Cambridgeshire. About 1788 he made a tour through Wales, in company with his friend Jones, a man who was afterwards a clergynan. Two years later the pair set out, knapsack on back, staff in hand, and twenty pounds in the pockets of each, for a pedestrian ramble through France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy. They were much more fortunate with regard to riches than poor Goldsmith, who started to do the grand tour with one clean shirt and two-pencehalfpenny.
In 1790, the time of this pilgrimage, in which the poet saw so much beauty of scenery, and looked on races widely different in temperament and thought to his own, the whole of Europe-perhaps of the world-was agitated by
the noise and tumult of the French Revolution. Every youthful mind, into whose depths had entered the philo. sophy and teaching of such enthusiasts as Jean Jacques Rousseau, was mad with fervid excitement ; every ardent spirit which thirsted for universal liberty, for equal law, for open justice, was bathed in a delirious joy which vented itself in outbursts of exultation. The Monarchy, the ancient tyrannical rule, was dying, and Republicanism, that mirage which appears so fair to all democratic indi. viduals, but which is really full of deadly danger, was in sight. In France all was joy, all was gladness. The tricoloured flag floated everywhere, brightness was on every countenance; it seemed, indeed, as though an age of gold had returned with the shouts which called for long life to the Republic. But even as the shouts rose, there went up the echo of the groans and cries of those on whom anarchy had done its work; there went up also the contending voices of rival factions, of fanatical parties, led by such miscreants as Robespierre and Marat, and with them mingled the cry that doomed the new-born movement to destruction, the prophetic note which told the awe-struck world that Republicanism of the complexion of that of 1790 was not Republicanisın in its true sense, and that the Estate of the Populace was already tottering to its fall.
WORDSWORTH's mind, at this period of his lise, was in a somewhat chaotic state, and his otherwise conservative and immoveable ideas were swept away in the mighty rush of the revolutionary movement. He began to fancy that the ideal age which is so often dreamt of by the enthusiast was about to dawn, that the old times of Commonwealth were returning, and that all men were to be free and equal. He passed through France in a wild fevered state of feeling, and climbed the Swiss mountains, hoping to hear from
thence of the establishment of an era which should resemble the one that existed only in the fiery imagination of his Ibrain. It is strange, -it may be called a curious psycholog. ical problem, that WORDSWORTH, who was afterwards strongly conservative in all thought and purpose, should be at this time republican enough to express his desire in fierce declamatory verse for the overthrowal and destruction of all those whose privilege and power it was to wield the sceptre of a monarch. But the revolutionary feeling, however strong it might be just then in WORDSWORTH'S breast, was not destined to last. He returned home with the martial strains of the republican armies ringing in his ears, and having the tri-coloured banners waving before his eyes, but gradually the power of these two influences died away, and left him to subside into quietude, and to embrace a less radical system of politics. In 1791 he graduated, and soon afterwards published his first volume of poems. This little book contained a poem entitled, The Evening Walk, which was written at Cambridge during the leisure moments of WORDSWORTH's residence there, and some descriptions in verse of the scenes with which he had became acquainted during his continental ramble. Nothing more unlike his succeeding work could be found. The poems exhibited no trace of that exceedingly simple style to which their author afterwards devoted himself; they were, in fact, very remarkable for a splendour of diction, and a richness of language which one scarcely ever finds in WORDSWORTH's best poetry. Of course the poems were somewhat imbued with a revolutionary spirit, but for the most part they were merely verse-sketches of places which had taken the poet's fancy, interspersed here and there with undeveloped thoughts and crude reasonings. There was, however, an indication in their lines of the rise of a new poet, of the springing forth of one possessed in no small degree of the poetic faculty. In 1794 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, no mean critic, came across the volume, and recognised in it the work of a genius. His criticism on the early poems of a man whom he did not then know, but whose friendship was afterwards to be one of the blessings of his turbulent existence, is conclusive. — “The language,” said he, “is not only peculiar and strong, but at times knotty and contorted, as by its own impatient strength ; while the novelty and struggling crowd of images acting in conjunction with the difficulties of the style, demand always a greater attention than poetry, at all events than descriptive poetry, has a right to claim." The following lines form a strong contrast in their gorgeousness to the simple verses of the Lyrical Ballads which appeared some few years later :
“ Here half a village shines in gold arrayed,
Soon after the publication of these early poems, WORDSWORTH left Cambridge and came to London. In the crowded streets of the Metropolis he found ample food for reflection; its busy ways interested him, and the various phases of life which he came across in its midst gave him abundant cause for speculative meditation. It is said of him that he was moved to tears on beholding the life and
bustle of the Strand. In London he led a very desultory life for some little time, and he was extremely anxious about his future prospects, which were not very bright at that period. And, besides this, the young poet was in a state of morbid discontent with most existing things. The French Revolution was agitating the souls of mankind, and WORDSWORTH thought over it, and of the evils and oppressions which had brought it about, until he was in a mental fever of no small magnitude. He again fancied the golden age to be close at hand, and that France was the land on which the sun of liberty was first to rise. England, with its steady-going institutions, its quiet and orderly regulations, and its old prejudices of other days, became too close for him, and he hastened away to where the great struggle was being fought out between Republicanism and Monarchy.
He lived on the banks of the river Loire for a year. The Royalist troops had coalesced on the Rhine, and very speedily the crisis came. The Royalists were defeated, their armies were driven from the country, the King was dethroned, anarchy reigned in his stead, and the streets of France ran with the blood of murdered people. Wordsworth hurried to the French capital, and there took a garret, spending the daytime in listening to the fierce harangues and denunciatory philippics of the streetorators, or in beholding the frightful deeds which were done in the name of Liberty. His ideal dreams of a Republic were dashed, his visions of a Commonwealth which should be worthy its name were dispelled, and suddenly he recognised the wickedness, the misery, the untold horrors which cling to Revolution. The deeds that he saw struck him with horror, he shuddered to think of the acts which were being done about him by the miscreant factions