« 前へ次へ »
poetry invoked amidst the tumult of the world, like the voice of a sister or a friend calling us back to the innocent pleasures of infancy and home.
Of all the writers of the lake school, Wordsworth comes nearest the idea which the imagination loves to form of an inspired poet; he has carried poetry back to its origin, and to him it is a system of religion ; he has, as it were, obtained new revelations concerning the destiny of man. His contemplatite soul has continually been occupied with the necessity of ideal perfection. He is the inventor of a sort of Christian platonism, founded on the moral harmony of the universe. He shows us the moral imprint of the finger of God on the humblest object of the creation, and endeavours to lead man to a sense of his dignity, by associating him with the idea of the Almighty. Though he does not always carry us along with him into the elevated sphere of his abstractions, there is nothing offensivein his superiority. He hum. bles himself with us before the majesty of God and the magnificence or mysteries of his works; and the feelings of the man are not annihilated by the high speculations of the philosopher. But the developement of his sublime theories must be looked for in his grand poem of “ The Excursion.” This work is distinguished by so calm a spirit of philosophy, and such a tone of solemn simplicity, that to be properly enjoyed, it must be perused in a particular disposition of mind. It requires that concentration of the soul, that pious inspiration which
is indispensable to appreciate the sublimity of a gloomy forest, or the solitude of a vast Gothic cathedral, feebly lighted by the glimmering rays which penetrate its long painted windows.
The poem entitled “ The Excursion,” though forming in itself a whole, is only a detached portion of an extensive work on Man, Nature, and Society, on which Wordsworth had been long engaged, and to which his smaller publications are subordinate.
The poem commences by introducing the reader to an old Scotchman, whom the author has known from his earliest youth. The old man, though of humble birth, has received the elements of a solid education and has above all imbibed principles of the strictest piety, thanks to his father-in-law, who was the minister and school-master of his village. Born among the hills of Athol, where he had been accustomed to tend his flocks, he acquired early in life a meditative and poetic character. Religious books also exercised their influence on his youthful imagination. On attaining his eighteenth year, that secret voice which impels the inhabitant of Savoy and of Switzerland to desert his native mountains, whispered in the ear of the young Scotchman, and restless activity urged him to enter on a wandering life, and he follows the trade of a pedlar.
Far from the scenes of his youth, he applies himself to the study of the character of man, his manners, passions, pleasures, and in particular
those feelings which, forming as it were, the essential elements of the heart, are preserved under the simple forms of rural life, and are expressed in the language of ingenuousness. At the approach of old age, he relinquishes his trade; and his acquaintance with the character of social man, combined with that enthusiasm for the beauties of nature which his long and solitary journeys tended to cherish, have made of him a moralist, professing a system founded on his own experience, and employing the eloquent and simple language of nature and truth.
He leads the poet to the dwelling of a hermit, whom he is desirous of reconciling with providence, and who is introduced to the reader as a sceptic reading Voltaire oftener than his Bible. He had formerly been happy in the society of a beloved wife and two children ; their death, however, left an irreparable void in his heart, and for a time he became a victim to despair. But he was once more allured to the scene of active life, by the dreams of liberty excited by the French revolution, the principles of which he enthusiastically embraced. Disappointed in his hopes for the cause of freedom, he despaired of man in general. His religious faith was shaken; he even renounced the memory of those whom he had followed weeping to the grave. Yet this is occasionally the source of his remorse.
The pedlar opposes the melancholy ideas of the hermit, and calls to his aid the experience of a vil. lage clergyman, who is the fourth actor in this philosophic drama.
The sublime conversations of these four characters produce a stronger impression, from the circumstance of their being held amidst the most picturesque scenery, to which the attention is frequently directed by descriptive allusions. According to the system to which I have already adverted, the lake, the torrent, and the mountain, have each their language, and nothing in nature is insensible; whatever is visible, whatever is endowed with motion or voice, presents not merely obscure symbols, or fantastic emblems, but real revelations. The humming of a shell announces the mysterious alliance of its inhabitant with the roaring ocean. An echo sometimes furnishes an image of the harmony of the two worlds, and sometimes a corresponding idea is produced by the sight of a shadow, and the body whose form it repeats.
The fourth book is particularly remarkable for exalted morality, profound views, and poetic applications. It developes the other principle of the lakists, namely, that the pride of human judgment should be humbled, in order to restore to the imagination and the affections that sway of which modern philosophy would deprive them.
The history of the spiritualism which was concealed under the idolatry of the Greeks, introduces a most poetic description of the remains of paganism ; but an objection from the hermit leads the philosopher to a defence of his Christian orthodoxy, The village pastor makes his appearance in the fifth book, and, at the gate of the church-yard,
justifies providence against despair. The remarks of the poet's venerable friend frequently remind the reader of the famous address of the old man of the Isle of France to Paul, to console him for the loss of Virginia. It is worthy of remark, that when Bernardin de St. Pierre consulted his friends on the subject of his master-piece, posterity was near being deprived of it through the unfavourable impression it produced on those who first perused it. Wordsworth has not yet lived, like St. Pierre, to be revenged of his scornful judges.
The pastor is requested to bring forward, in support of the moral system he has defended, some episodes from country life. He chooses for his text the modest virtues, and the faults of those whom he has himself laid beneath the turf.
It would injure the effect of these portraits to draw them singly from their frames; but I cannot pass over, unnoticed, the ingenious anecdote of the two men of opposite opinions, who are thrown together by accident, and to whom contradiction becomes an absolute necessity. This episode bears some resemblance to those of Cowper, and even to Crabbe's tales. One of the two friends is a whig, who having spent a handsome fortune in electioneering struggles, retires, under an assumed name, to a village in the Highlands, where a Scottish laird, who had taken part with the Stuarts, seeks an asylum after the battle of Culloden. These two men, though they make not the least concession on either side, yet by the very habit of seeing, meeting, and contradicting each other, become such