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In an age of mechanical triumph, it celebrated the majestic resources of the universe.
To this calm voice from the mountains, none could listen without advantage. What though its tones were sometimes monotonous—they were bopeful and serene. To listen exclusively, might indeed prove wearisome; but in some placid moments those mild echoes could not but bring good cheer. In the turmoil of cities, they refreshed from contrast; among the green fields, they inclined the mind to recognise blessings to which it is often insensible. There were ministers to the passions, and apostles of learning, sufficient for the exigencies of the times. Such an age could well suffer one preacher of the simple, the natural, and the true; one advocate of a wisdom not born of books, of a pleasure not obtainable from society, of a satisfaction underived from outward activity. And such a prophet proved William Wordsworth.
Sensibility to Nature is characteristic of poets in general. Wordsworth's feelings in this regard have the character of affection. He does not break out into ardent apostrophes like that of Byron addressed to the Ocean, or Coleridge's Hymn at Chamouni; but his verse breathes a constant and serene devotion to all the charms of natural scenery-from the mountain-range that bounds the horizon, to the daisy beside his path:
“If stately passions in me burn,
A lowlier pleasure;
Of hearts at leisure." He does not seem so much to resort to the quiet scenes of the country for occasional recreation, as to live and breathe only in their tranquil atmosphere. His interest in the universe has been justly called personal. It is not the passion of a lover in the dawn of his bliss, nor the
unexpected delight of a metropolitan, to whose sense rural beauty is arrayed in the charms of novelty; but rather the settled, familiar, and deep attachment of a friend :
Though absent long,
With tranquil restoration.” The life, both inward and outward, of Wordsworth, is most intimately associated with lakes and mountains. Amid them he was born, and to them has he ever looked for the necessary aliment of his being. Nor are his feelings on the subject merely passive or negative. He has a reason for the faith that is in him. To the influences of Nature he brings a philosophic imagination. No transient pleasure, no casual agency, does he ascribe to the outward world. In his view, its functions in relation to man are far more penetrating and efficient than has ever been acknowledged. Human education he deems a process for which the Creator has made adequate provision in this “goodly frame" of earth and sea and sky.
"He had small need of books; for many a Tale
“ One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Than all the sages can." Accordingly, both in details and combination, Nature has been the object of his long and earnest study. To illustrate her unobserved and silent ministry to the heart,
has been his favorite pursuit. From his poems might be gleaned a compendium of mountain infiuences. Even the animal world is viewed in the same light – in the much-ridiculed Peter Bell, Susan, and the White-Doe of Rylstone, we have striking instances, - to present the affecting points of its relation to mankind has been one of the most daring experiments of his muse :
" One lesson, shepherd, let us two divide,
Taught both by what she shows and what conceals,
With sorrow of the meapest thing tbat feels."
In the same spirit has Wordsworth looked upon human life and history. To lay bare the native elements of character in its simplest form, to assert the essential dignity of life in its most rude and common manifestations, to vindicate the interest which belongs to human beings, simply as such, have been the darling objects of his thoughts. Instead of Corsairs and Laras, peerless ladies and perfect knights, a wagoner, a beggar, a potter, a pedlar, are the characters of whose feelings and experience he sings. The operations of industry, bereavement, temptation, remorse, and local influences, upon these children of humble toil, have furnished problems which he delighted to solve. And who shall say that in so doing, he has not been of signal service to his kind ? Who shall say that through such portraits a wider and truer sympathy, a inore vivid sense of human
brotherhood, a more just self-respect, has not been extensively awakened? Have not our eyes been thus opened to the better aspects of ignorance and poverty ? Have we not thus been made to feel the true claims of man! Allured by the gentle monitions from Rydal Mount, do we not now look upon our race in a more meek and susceptible mood, and pass the lowliest being beside the highway, with more of that new sentiment of respect and hope which was heralded by the star of Bethlehem ? Can we not more sincerely exclaim with the hero of Sartor Resartus, “ Poor, wandering, wayward man! Art thou not tried, beaten with many stripes, even as I am ? Ever, whether thou wear the royal mantle or the beggar's gaberdine, art thou not so weary, so heavy laden? O! my brother, my brother! why cannot I shelter thee in my bosom, and wipe away all tears from thine eyes ?"
In accordance with this humane philosophy, Childlood is contemplated by Wordsworth. The spirit of the Saviour's sympathy with this beautiful era of life, seems to possess his muse. Its unconsciousness, its ignorance of death, its trust, hope, and peace, its teachings, and promise, he has portrayed with rare sympathy. Witness, “ We are Seven," the “ Pet Lamb," and especially the Ode, which is perhaps the finest and most characteristic of Wordsworth's compositions. A reader of his poetry, who imbibes its spirit, can scarcely look upon the young with indifference. The parent must thence derive a new sense of the sacredness of children, and learn to reverence their innocence, to leave unmarred their tender traits, and to yield them more confidently to the influences of Nature. In his true and feeling chronicles of the “ heaven” that “lies about us in our infancy,” Wordsworth has uttered a silent but most eloquent reproach against all the absurdities and sacrilegious abuses of modern education. He has made known the truth, that children have their lessons to con vey as well as receive :
"O dearest, dearest boy, my heart
For hetter lore would seldom yearn,
Of what from thee I learn."
Those first affections,
Of the eternal silence."