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Art. 1.- The Sonnets of William Wordsworth. Collected in
One Volume. London. 12mo. 1838. IN our 104th Number we ventured upon the task of considerT ing Mr. Wordsworth's poetry at large ; but such a subject cannot be treated as it ought to be within such limits, and we are glad of the opportunity afforded by the publication of the Sonnets' in a separate volume to endeavour to do more justice to a part than we found it possible to do to the whole. Not that justice can be done to a part of Mr. Wordsworth's or of any great writer's works without having reference to the whole. Every portion of such a writer's works has a value beyond its intrinsic worth, as being part and lot of a great mind, and having correlations with every other part; and whether it be from the unity of spirit which is commonly found to pervade the works of a great writer whatever may be his variety of manner, or whether it be that there is nothing he has written but must tell us something of his mind (for even his commonplace remarks will tell us that upon occasion he was willing to be commonplace), it is certainly the attribute of such writers to give the coherency of one interest to everything that proceeds from them; and far be it from us to treat Mr. Wordsworth's Sonnets otherwise than as parcel of that great body of doctrine and inoral sentiment which constitutes Mr. Wordsworth's mind extant in his works. But, by considering the Sonnets principally, and the other poems only in relation to them, we shall we enabled to keep our remarks within compass, and yet to allow ourselves in some instances to enter upon minute and verbal criticism, which is, more often than it is generally supposed to be, the only criticism that is of much value.
Of the many styles in which this poet has written, those of the Sonnets and of the Excursion may be regarded as the farthest apart; the Excursion being the most remarkable of his writings for breadth of style, the Sonnets for compactness. In a long philosophical poem which must necessarily tax the powers of attention, a current and almost colloquial manner was best fitted to keep the reader at ease, and a continued terseness of diction and condensation of thought, though apparently abridging his labours, in reality would have cost him more than it saved him. That the whole should VOL. I.XIX. NO. CXXXVII.
be flowingly connected, so as to be borne in upon the mind with the weight of one stream, was more for the interests of the subject than that pointed and striking passages should often occur. It was also perhaps expedient that the substance of what was to be said in the Excursion should be supported by its own solidity and truth, and that it should be recommended by the natural eloquence of a fervid mind delivering itself of what is strongly felt, rather than by any frequency of fanciful embellishment, or, as regards the rhythm, by any marked and salient melodies. These things were not to be excluded, but they were to come as they might happen to present themselves to a mind somewhat pre-occupied—they were to be merely occasional and incidental. The Sonnets, on the contrary, address the reader, each claiming to be considered for itself and by itself; and though, as we have said, not altogether irrespectively of its kindred with other works the issue of the same mind, yet mainly as a substantive poem. And for this kind of poem the style required was the very opposite of that employed in the Excursion, and perhaps also a good deal removed from what fell in with the natural fluency of the poet. Mr. Wordsworth's genius we imagine to have inclined naturally to an easy abundance both of thoughts and words ; but art was to predominate, over this inclination wheresoever it was not fit to be indulged, and the poetic mind which had been diffused widely with an easy fluctuation through the Excursion, though not changing its nature and spirit, was to take a different structure
-was to be inspissated, as it were, and form itself into crystals in the Sonnets.
The critic of these Sonnets meets on the threshold of his task two which, being on the subject of this form of poetry, he is naturally called upon to notice first. The former of them is that picture-gallery in fourteen lines, which, though probably familiar to our readers, cannot but be quoted here :
· Scorn not the Sonnet : Critic! you have frowned,