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away into the main ! Then, as the growing boy becomes more familiar with the ebb and the flow-with all the smiles and frowns on the aspect-all the low and sweet, all the loud and sullen, tones of the voice of the sea-in his doubled delight he loses half his dread, launches his own skiff, paddles with his own oar, hoists his own little sail-and, ere long, impatient of the passion that devours him, the passion for the wonders and dangers that dwell on the great deep, on some day disappears from his birthplace and his parents' eyes, and, years afterwards, returns a thoughtful man from his voyaging round the globe!
Therefore, to know ourselves, we sought to penetrate into the souls of other men-to be with them, in the very interior of their conscience, when they thought no eye was upon them but the eye of God. 'Twas no seclusion of the spirit within itself to take cognizance of its own acts and movements; but we were led over the fortunes and works of human beings wherever their minds have acted or their steps have trod. All sorrow and all joy, the calamities which have shaken empires, the crimes which have hurried single souls into perdition, the grounds of stability, just order, and power, in the great societies of men—the peace and happiness that have blossomed in the bosom of inno. cent life, the loves that have interwoven joy with grief, the hopes that no misery can overwhelm, the fears that no pleasure can assuage, the gnawing of the worm that never dies, the bliss of conscience, the bale of remorse, the virtue of the moral, and the piety of the religious spirit,--all these, and every thing that human life, in its inexhaustible variety, could disclose, became the subjects of inquiry, emotion, thought, to our intellect seeking knowledge of human nature, to us a student desirous, in restless and aspiring youth, to understand something of his own soulof that common being in which he lives and breathes, and of which, from no other source, and no other aid, can he ever have any uninspired revelation.
ls it wonderful then that we, like other youths with a soul within them, mingled ourselves and our very being with the dark, bright, roaring, hushed, vast, beautiful, magnificent, guilty and glorious London !
Coleridge, that rich-freighted argosie, tilting in sunshine over imagination's seas, feared not-why should he have feared ?-in a poem of his youth-to declare to all men,
“ To me hath Heaven, with bounteous hand, assign'd
Energic reason and a shaping mind.” That boast may not pass our lips! Yet what forbids us even now exultingly to say, that nature had not withheld from us the power of genial delight in all the creations of genius; and that she shrouded, as with a gorgeous canopy, our youth, with the beauty and magnificence of a million dreams? Lovely to our eyes was all the loveliness that emanated from more gifted spirits, and in the love with which we embraced it, it became our very own! We caught the shadows of high thoughts as they passed along the wall, reflected from the great minds meditating in the hallowed shade! And thenceforth they peopled our being! Nor haply did our own minds not originate some intellectual forms and combinations, in their newness fair, or august-recognised as the product of our own more elevated moods, although unarrayed, it might be, in words, or passing away with their symbols into oblivion, nor leaving a trace behind-only a sense of their transitory presence, consolatory and sublime! Even then, in thy loud streets, O London! as the remembrance of Scotland's silent valleys came suddenly and softly upon our hearts, a wish, a hope, a belief arose that the day might come, when even our voice might not be altogether unlistened to by the happy dwellers there,-haply faint, low, and irregular, like the song of some bird—one of the many linnets—in its happiness half-afraid to tune its melodies, amidst the minstrelsy of Merle and Mavis, with which the whole forest rings !
Often do we vainly dream that time works changes only by ages—by centuries ! But who can tell what even an hour may bring forth! Decay and destruction have “ ample room and verge enough,” in such a city; and in one year they can do the work of many generations. This century is but young-scarcely hath it reached its prime. But since its first year rolled round the sun, how many towers and temples have in ever-changeful LonVOL. I.
don “ gone to the earth!” How many risen up whose “ statures reach the sky!” Dead is the old king in his darkness, whom all England loved and reverenced. Princes have died, and some of them left not a namemighty men of war have sunk, with all their victories and all their trophies, vainly deemed immortal, into oblivion !
-Mute is the eloquence of Pitt's and of Canning's voice! In that Abbey, the thought of whose sacred silence did often touch his high heart, when all his fleet was moored in peace, or bearing down in line of battle, now Nelson sleeps !-And thousands, unknown and unhonoured, as wise, or brave, in themselves as good and as great as those whose temples fame hath crowned with everlasting halo, have dropt the body, and gone to God. How many thousand fairest faces, brightest eyes, have been extinguished and faded quite away! Fairer and brighter far to him whose youth they charmed and illumined, than any eyes that shall ever more gaze on the flowers of earth, or the stars of heaven!
Methinks the western sun shines cooler in the garden -that the shades are somewhat deepened that the birds are not hopping round our head, as they did some hour ago—that in their afternoon siesta they are mute. Another set of insects are in the air. The flowers, that erewhile were broad and bright awake, with slumbering eyne are now hanging down their heads; and those that erewhile seemed to slumber, have awoke from their day-dreams, and look almost as if they were going to speak. Have you a language of your own-dear creatures—for we know that ye have loves ? But, hark, the gong—the gong! in the hand of John, smiting it like the slave of some Malay-chief. In our paradise there is “ fear that dinner cool,” mortal man must eat—and thus endeth
" OUR MIDSUMMER-DAY'S DREAM."
AN ESSAY ON THE THEORY AND THE WRITINGS
(Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1829.)
It appears to me that the poetry of Wordsworth, always estimated too rapturously, or too virulently depreciated, has never been placed on its proper level. “ Then, of course,” cries the critic, “ you imagine yourself competent to fix it in its appropriate station.” If I were to say no, you would not believe me; and if I say yes, I go beyond the truth. A man, when he professes to treat of a subject, is always supposed, by courtesy, to be master of that subject. He is obliged to place himself in the situation of a teacher, and to regard those whom he addresses as his pupils, although he may be conscious that his powers are below those of some who grant him their attention. This compelled tone of superiority, this involuntary dictatorship, must, more especially, be admitted as an excuse for laying down the law in matters of taste. Subjects of science, indeed, may be handled with precision; and any one, after going through a certain course of study and experiment may, without arrogance, assert, “ These things are so." Moral and sacred subjects again may appeal to a fixed standard. But subjects that relate to taste and feeling, admit not of such exactness. In these every man is a law unto himself, and he who sets himself up for a lecturer on taste can, after all, only give his own opinion, and leave others to adopt it or not, according to their several notions of right and wrong, beauty and deformity. One qualification, at least, I possess for the task I have undertaken. I have read, as I believe, every line that Wordsworth ever published. Critic, canst thou say as much?
My first endeavour will be to show that Wordsworth's genius is overrated by his partisans; my second, that it is underrated by his detractors.
Although Wordsworth has never been a popular poet, in the extended sense of the word, yet what he has lacked in the number of his admirers, has been made up to him by the intensity of adoration which his few worshippers have displayed. A true disciple of his school said to me, 66 I call the poetry of Wordsworth an actual revelation;" and I have heard others assert that his writings were able to work a moral change in any zealous peruser of them. This may seem strange to those who only know Words. worth's poetry through the medium of passages quoted from the Lyrical Ballads, or perhaps by the imitation of his style in the Rejected Addresses-an imitation which does not possess one true characteristic of his manner. It is the mixture of philosophy with low and humble subjects which is the real peculiarity of Wordsworth's poetry—not, as some persons imagine, a mere childishness both of thought and meaning. It is on Wordsworth's faith, as viewed in connexion with its poetical practice, that his admirers found his claim to great and original excellence, and they thence derive their prediction, that by the side of Milton his station will be awarded him by posterity. Un. like other poets who leave their principles of composition to be deduced from their works, Wordsworth lays down certain principles, of which he professes his poetry to be an illustration. He is a theorist, as well as a poet, and may be considered as much the founder of a sect as Plato or Pythagoras. This connexion between his peculiar no. tions and his verse obliges me to consider how far his theory is original, how far it is just, and with what success he has illustrated it in his compositions. I must, however, premise, that the very idea of fabricating poetry according to a set theory, is an unhappy one. That a thing, which should both proceed from, and address itself to, the feelings -which ought to be an inspiration and a divine madness -should mete itself out by rule and measure, “ regulate its composition by principles," and carefully adapt its language of passion to a code of speech, involves an essential con.) tradiction. Where was Shakspeare's theory when he read