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scriber of nature for her own sake. On the other hand, the same sense will urge him to identify nature with the human heart more closely than the man who either, from inferior imaginative power, does not feel the inherent vitality in all things, or who regards them as simple subjects for scientific investigation. He will study man more (especially man, leading a simple and unsophisticated life) as the highest effort or manifestation of nature. This two-fold current of thought runs through Wordsworth's poetry, and explains at once its peculiar excellence and its limitations : limitations which must be distinctly recognized almost everywhere in Wordsworth. Only a Shakespeare can preserve throughout a golden moderation between such conflicting forces. It does not always happen
. that the identification of the lessons of nature and of the human heart is equal or entire, and when this is so, the poet is apt to become either too descriptive or too didactic, as the balance may incline. Why the didactic element marked itself most on the poetry of Wordsworth's later years, the sketch of his life may partly serve to explain.
A disposition such as his, and the turn of thought which he had nourished among the valleys of Cumberland, were not likely to render Wordsworth congenial as an undergraduate to Cambridge. Except in the
Prelude,” that University is almost absent from the verse of one whose own experiences, as with Goethe, almost exclusively form the groundwork of his poetry. Wordsworth’s, however, was no nature for indolence ; and, besides mastering Italian, he appears to have pursued that careful study of the English and the Latin poets (in the Greek he never went far), which had been one passion of his boyhood. But the routine of college life and the favourite studies of the place were alien from him, and to this alienation the politics of the time soon added a graver colour. Already (1790) he had visited France, then at that stage in revolution when it seemed possible to unite Royalty with Liberty. Returning next year, he found a nation distracted between civil war and foreign invasion,-between those ready to die to restore a rejected past, and those ready to die for the inauguration of an impossible future. The energy of passion thus raised, under the rapid pressure of many circumstances, internal and external, expanded itself into the frenzy of September, 1792. Happily for himself (for he had intimate friends among the moderate republicans), Wordsworth left Paris before the massacre : but some part of the passionate impulse of the time had passed into him, as it passed into all sensitive minds, and he returned home with a strong sympathy for what France had aimed at in 1790, and a strong dissatisfaction with the policy pursued towards her by England in 1792. Unable to reconcile himself to the church or the law for a career, and ill at ease even in the smaller
London of those days, the master-currents of his soul gradually became predominant, and he turned to Nature and to Poetry as the purpose of his life:-publishing in 1793 his first works, “ The Evening Walk," and “Descriptive Sketches." These little poems, written, it is curious to note, in the ten syllabled rhyming couplet which we associate with the school of Dryden and Pope, were brought out reluctantly, in the hope that they "might show he could do something." Slightly noticed at the time, they exercised a great influence over Wordsworth’s life, by attracting to him the regard of his contemporary poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who judged them with the insight of a congenial imagination. “Seldom, if ever,” he wrote, “was the emergence of an original poetic genius above the literary horizon more evidently announced.”
The little property of the Wordsworth family had been kept from the children, it is stated, by the injustice of Sir John Lowther, created Earl of Lonsdale, during whose lifetime (he died in 1802), no redress could be obtained. But at this juncture (1795), the opportune legacy of £900 from a young friend named Calvert gave Wordsworth an independence which could, however, only have been wrung by one devoted to "plain living and high thinking," from the interest of so small a sum. Meanwhile another and a greater blessing was in store for him ; his sister Dorothy was now grown up; they settled together at Racedown in Dorsetshire (1796), and next year at Alfoxden in Somerset ; removing, after a residence of some months in Germany, to Grasmere in 1799. Coleridge was at this time much with Wordsworth ; he formed a friendship with Sir George Beaumont, Charles Lamb, Southey, and Walter Scott, and in 1802 entered upon a long marriage of unbroken happiness with Mary Hutchinson, a young lady whom he had known from childhood. Of all the powerful and salutary influences which thus affected the poet, that of his sister's presence was probably the most important :
Where'er my footsteps turned
There is no little likeness between the characters of the three poets, Dante, Milton, and Wordsworth: in each a powerful nature, apt to push self-dependence into harshness and isolation ; affections marked rather by depth than by geniality ; a habit of consistent and logical thought, which sometimes became dogmatism, and ranged them all on the “opposition " side of the politics of their age. It is on such natures that what Scott named the “ministering ” function of women, to soothe, sustain, and moderate, may confer its most peculiar blessings; and, more happy than his great
predecessors, these blessings fell from Heaven upon Wordsworth exactly at the crisis when, as we have just seen, they were especially required by the circumstances of his inner life ; when, also, the improvement in his income enabled him to profit by them. Add to this the particulars already mentioned that his mind had been powerfully charged, if the word may be permitted, with alternate sympathy and horror by the mighty struggles of the time, and the conflict embracing all the deepest interests of man which raged on every side ;—that, from the midst of this, he was suddenly transported to the most solitary and the most primitive regions of natural beauty which England could furnish ;-that, whilst here, again, and as if to restrain the narrowing influences of that “confirmed tranquillity,” he came into communion with some of the most highly-gifted minds among his contemporaries, and it will not appear surprizing that to the twelve years following 1796 we owe, either in execution or in idea, by far the largest portion of Wordsworth's best and most characteristic poetry. And that this poetry should embody, in a thousand different phases, the influences which have been here briefly and imperfectly traced as operative upon the writer from his childhood, would seem to be the natural result of the law which makes a poet's verse the reflection of his mind, character, and experiences.
The chronology of Wordsworth's principal poems