« 前へ次へ »
the reverend pastor occasionally reminds one of Anacreon binding his grey hair with flowers.
In spite of the animadversions of Hazlitt, who is the Pasquin of contemporary English critics, and notwithstanding the system which Crabbe himself professed in the prefaces to his earliest productions, it must be acknowledged that few poets have displayed greater brilliancy of imagination. However, bis writings, like those of all other English poets, are exceedingly unequal.
TO M. J. B. AUG. SOULIE.
Now that poetry is no longer, as it was in the days of the bards and druids, a language of the initiated-at a period when the poetic muse actively participates in the interests of society, and even in politics, a poet like Mr. Wordsworth is a being apart, who addresses himself to adepts rather than to readers. He has, like Richardson, had the honour of being recommended from the pulpit, for Mr. Irving has recently pronounced an eloquent eulogium on one of his poems.
I know not whether this consecration of talent by religion, would, to an ordinary poet, make amends for the indifference of the majority of
readers, and the periodical ridicule of the reviews; but Wordsworth, like all men of a naturally contemplative turn of mind, writes rather for himself than for the public, and is easily consoled for the injustice of his contemporaries. A genius like his feels a consciousness of its own power, and in obeying the impulses of that genius, the poet finds in his own heart, if not the only encouragement he desires, at least that which serves to defend him against the piercing shafts of raillery. A rival poet unfortunately joined the tribe of critics, who make the philosophy of Wordsworth a subject of ridicule. Lord Byron contemplates nature and society in so different a point of view, that he must often be in direct contradiction to the lake poet ; but it was not generous to feign so much contempt for a writer, from whom he condescended to borrow some of his ideas. Wordsworth’s Evening Sketches undoubtedly furnished the groundwork of the third canto of Childe Harold.
Out of a thousand persons who read Lord Byron, there are ten who read Wordsworth ; but out of these ten, there are, perhaps, six who assign to him the very highest rank among poets. In England, if you enquire who Wordsworth is, you will be answered by two or three stanzas of Don Juan, in which he is denounced as a fool; or you will, perhaps, be told that he is a man who once held a situation in the stamp office; that about thirty years ago, he published some ballads for children ; that he has since produced a dull
poem, the hero of which is a common vagrant. He does not indite verses to Chloris, but he writes forty sonnets on one streamlet; addresses lines to the linnet, the red-breast, the lark, the cuckoo, the daisy, and the hawthorn ; describes, over and over again, the scenery of the little English Switzerland, and is exceedingly fond of speculating on the instinct of children and idiots.
Yet this is the very man whom Walter Scott, Southey, and Coleridge, extol as the greatest genius of modern poetry. Wordsworth is the least popular of all the English poets; but, at the same time, he excites the highest degree of enthusiasm among his own admirers.
Wordsworth is at the head of the Lake School, which includes Southey, Coleridge, Wilson, &c. and is so called because all the poets belonging to it either reside, or have resided, near the lakes of Westmoreland or Cumberland. Though united together by the bonds of relationship and friendship, rather than by the doctrines of their particular poetic theory, yet they may, nevertheless, be regarded as the members of a sect.
I have already alluded to an article in the Edinburgh Review, in which that publication attempted to establish a sort of literary catholicism, by setting up a claim to supremacy and infallibility. The principles of the lake school were the first heresy proscribed by the review, which, however, has since shewn more indulgence for the principles, without abating its prejudice against the individuals who profess them. Southey, who is
one of the contributors to the Quarterly Review, has occasionally rendered it a vehicle for the de. fence of his friends. But the lakists have been highly panegyrized in Blackwood's Magazine, which was at first hostile to them. Wilson and Coleridge are, however, now concerned in the management of that publication.
In politics, (for under representative governments, even poets are politicians) the lakists are tories. Republicanism was, however, the sin of their youth, and they still retain more liberal ideas than the whigs are willing to give them credit for. The year 89 awakened their enthusiasm, hut 93 undeceived them, and in their despair, Southey, Coleridge, and Lovel, were on the point of setting out to found a free colony on the banks of the Susqueannah, in the United States. But since then, Coleridge has become a ministerial writer, and Southey has been made poet laureate.
The poets of the lake school reserve all their admiration for the authors of the Elizabethan age, and find nothing but a void in English literature from the time of Milton and Jeremy Taylor, up to Cowper. They are of opinion that the collection of the old ballads of Bishop Percy has had a tendency to restore the genuine taste for poetry in England. To this almost exclusive admiration for the literature of old times, they combine an absolute passion for metaphysics.
They affect also to view the beauties of nature with a degree of enthusiasm, of which the hearts of all are susceptible, except, as they pretend,
those of the great mass of poets, who, blinded by false systems, discover only conventional charms in the finest natural scenery. Amidst silence and solitude, on the bosom of lakes, or in shady groves, their souls seem to mingle with the universal spirit of nature; they feel an invisible and ineffable influence, which exalts, delights, and purifies them. There is a mysticism in their feelings which bears some analogy to the Pantheism of Pythagoras. For this reason the lake poets are called the Quakers and Methodists of English poetry. Every object of nature to them presents the varied expression of an intellectual they attribute not only a physical, but a moral existence to the most trivial as well as to the grandest object in the creation. They regard the ocean as endowed with feelings and passions; the moon has her caprices; comets, stars, and cloudş, are governed by internal impulses. Coleridge, however, since he has become more exclusively philosophic, seems to have forsaken this fanciful theory. He even goes so far as to refute in his autobiography one of the poetic ideas of Wordsworth and Wilson, who suppose that the Deity delights in communing with the pure spirit of childhood.
The lake poets all agree in elevating the domestic virtues and amiable affections above bril. liant and dangerous heroism. From them the mother, the daughter, the wife, and the sister, receive an homage as pure as the charm they diffuse over society. They would have the muse of moral