Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

This principle is the great moral element of Wordsworth's poetry,the sameness of the human heart. I am painfully conscious of the injury I am doing to it by these hurried comments. He has vindicated the sensibilities of mankind in humble life, and, by showing their susceptibility to kindness, has fostered the natural love between man and man. He thus silences a common plea of selfishness, in treating the story of the ingratitude of the poor as a thing only heard of at a distance. This is the fine moral of the little ballad of Simon Lee, closing with these

stanzas:

My gentle reader, I perceive
How patiently you

've waited ;
And now I fear that you expect

Some tale will be related.
“O reader! had you in your mind

Such stores as silent thought can bring,-
O gentle reader! you would find

A tale in everything.
" What more I have to say is short,

And you must kindly take it :
It is no tale ; but, should you think,

Perhaps a tale you 'll make it.
“One summer day I chanced to see

This old man, doing all he could
To unearth the root of an old tree,

A stump of rotten wood.
6. The mattock totter'd in his hapd;

So vain was his endeavour,
That at the root of the old tree

He might have work'd for ever.
“'You 're overtask’d, good Simon Lee;

Give me your tool,' to him I said;
And, at the word, right gladly he

Receiv'd my proffer'd aid.
“I struck, and with a single blow

The tangled root I sever'd,
At which the poor old man so long

And vainly had endeavour'd.
“ The tears into his eyes were brought,

And thanks and praises seem'd to run
So fast out of his heart, I thought

They never would have done.
I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds

With coldness still returning :
Alas! the gratitude of men
Hath oftener left me mourning."

In Wordsworth’s highly-cultivated affection for human nature, of course, is comprehended that reverence of womanly nature which we have observed as an element in the genius of all the great English poets. It is part of his comprehensive scheme for elevating and purifying humanity, to throw the light of his imagination upon the meek majesty of the female heart, its faithfulness, its fortitude, its heroism. What can be more touchingly beautiful than the account of a woman's slowlywasting spirit, in the story of the “ Deserted Cottage,” in the first book of the “Excursion ”? The sanity of Wordsworth's genius admits of no romantic exaggeration or vapid sentimentality on this subject. While it is his delight to show how divine a thing a woman may be made, he regards her moving in the orbit of domestic life, not as enshrined by a superstitious chivalry, but the being that God gave because it was not good for man to be alone. It is a worthy and no light effort of poetic genius to take from the extravagances of romance all that is attractive, and to blend it with the daily household worth of woman, and, thus preserving its beauty, to reveal the spiritual and the practical which in their harmony make up the perfection of female loveliness.

I had it much at heart to treat of Wordsworth's political poems, and to show how valuable a use they might subserve in elevating and chastening public sentiment. But the subject is too fine a one to be injured by such hurried discussion as I would now be compelled to give it. Let me only, in evidence of his large-hearted sympathy with our institutions, repeat an unpublished sonnet, composed on reading an account of what he charitably calls some misdoings in our land :

“ Men of the Western World! in Fate's dark book

Whence this opprobrious leaf of dire portent ?
Think ye your British ancestors forsook
Their narrow isle, for outrage provident ?
Think ye they fled restraint they ill could brook,
To give in their descendants freer vent
And wider range to passions turbulent,
To mutual tyranny a deadlier look ?
• Nay,' said a voice more soft than zephyr's breath ;
'Dive through the stormy surface of the flood
To the great current flowing underneath ;
Think on the countless springs of silent good;
So shall the truth be known and understood,

And thy grieved spirit brighten strong in faith.'" I had hoped to present the subject of this lecture with all the care due to a poet whose fame, not yet sanctioned by time, is therefore vaguely appreciated. But circumstances far beyond my control have

[blocks in formation]

-a

so embarrassed the requisite preparation, that I have been constrained to presume upon your indulgence in the hasty and very inadequate suggestions which have constituted this evening's lecture.

It has been my unaffected desire that this course of lectures should be conducted with as little obtrusion of the lecturer personally as possible. It is the cause which I have been anxious to impress you with, leaving him to whom you have listened to be recognised as scarce more than a mere voice. A few words were given to personal considerations in first meeting you ; a few more may be indulged in now parting from you. I then stated the principles on which this literary enterprise was undertaken, duty to this community arising from my position in it. It was not consistent with either that duty or my inclination to court a reluctant attendance or solicit it as a favour. Taking no step of that sort, and, in these times of indiscriminate and exaggerated puffing, avoiding all the machinery of extrinsic influences, it was my resolution that the fate of this course, be it what it might, should be its real fate. I thought it no more than my right distinctly to say so, believing that so we would understand each other the better. It is my wish now to say that the feeling then asserted, so far from hindering, has best promoted, a deep sense of gratefulness for the kindness I have met with. It never entered into my thoughts that my duty to offer this course brought the least obligation upon you to attend it. What claims had I upon that patience which has been so bountifully bestowed on me ? What assurance was there that these lectures could or would be conducted in a way that would be satisfactory to you? I well know the inconvenience, the restraint, the interference with other engagements and habits, which your attendance here must have subjected you to; and, when I look back and think that this has been so for sixteen successive weeks, my heart leaps up with pride that a subject so purely imaginative should have thus won your attention, and with gratitude for the kind, friendly, and indulgent feelings which the interest of that subject has been the means of extending to me personally. This course has been protracted longer than appears to me desirable ; each lecture, too, has exceeded its due limits. Conscious of this, it has been the more gratifying to experience your consideration for me in restraining all symptoms of impatience. No one can be more sensible than I am of the deficiencies of the course, resulting from two very ample though widely-different causes—the superabundance of the materials and the inability to do the subject the justice which is its due. It is unavailing, however, now to dwell upon those deficiencies, and I would rather turn to the hope suggested by then—necessarily an indefinite hope of entering with you, on some future occasion, into some of those regions of our literature of which thus far we have in not a few instances only touched upon the frontiers. In the mean time I can bear away the happy recollection of having witnessed the power which true poetry exerts over the best of our intellectual and moral sympathies, for I know that the hearts of young and old have kindled here with the sound of the noble strains uttered by our English imagination. All that has reached me respecting these lectures has been kindness-unqualified kindness,-inspiring this feeling above all others :-an anxiety to bring them far nearer than has been done to the ideal of what might merit such acknowledgments. It is, therefore, with entire sincerity that for the last words to pass between us I appropriate that simple stanza, the very voice of gratefulness, repeated once already this evening :

“ I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds

With coldness still returning :
Alas! the gratitude of men

Hath oftener left me mourning.”

MISCELLANEOUS ESSAYS

ON

ENGLISH POETRY.

ESSAY I.

.

IT

English Sonnets. T is matter of familiar observation, that the success of literary pro

ductions is sensibly dependent on the forms in which they are presented. In the domain of English poetry, there is a section to which justice has not been done : its quality is not held in very high repute, and the title to it is regarded as somewhat doubtful. I refer to that form of metrical composition which is denominated the Sonnet. To prove that it has not found favour always even in the eyes of those who have cultivated a taste for other forms of poetry, I would ask them whether, when they have met with its modest structure, they have not generally passed it carelessly by. Besides, in the minds of those who do not entirely neglect it, there may be detected a peculiar feeling, aptly to be described as unkindly; they regard it not with the look that a man gives to his own kin and countrymen, but with that which is cast coldly and doubtingly upon a stranger or foreigner. While the sonnet is read, an un-English feeling is found to be creeping about the heart, and the fancy is filled unconsciously with thoughts of Petrarch and images of Laura and the Vaucluse. While its melody is falling on the ear, we are too often overtaken with a kind of misgiving that we are listening to the rich music of, indeed, our own mother-tongue, but tuned to a strange note ; that we hear its glorious words uttered through a foreign instrument. This is not as it should be. The Muse of England should not stand a suppliant or a vassal anywhere. She holds in her own right, or she holds not at all. So far as literature is concerned, we are, by our calling, guardsmen of English rights and English merits; and, as the form of poetry in question seems to be regarded as not having yet worked out its independence, I mean to try to undertake its vindication. I proclaim

« ZurückWeiter »