« AnteriorContinuar »
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
Let him exhibit himself at a later period :
“ Life's autumn past, I stand on winter's verge,
And daily lose what I desire to keep:
Can any one doubt that this man is a poet? The young and fervent, who admire Lord Byron's intense enthusiasm in the perception of external nature, know not how much of it was kindled at Wordsworth's altar. In the noble author's works, they may have met with many a contemptuous sarcasm on Wordsworth and his poetry. They ought to be informed, that these expressions of contempt and dislike are but the results of the natural tendency of men to hate their benefactors. Perhaps also something of good policy mingled with a bitterer feeling. Lord Byron might wish to make it seem impossible that he should bor. row from one whom he despised so heartily. But it was a part of Lord Byron's daring character, never to be deterred from seizing upon any materials, which suited his purpose, by the fear of detection. In these things, to put a good face upon the matter is half the battle. Thuswhether it was that he thought that the boldest thieves are ever the least suspected, or that his contemptuous appreciation of his contemporaries, led him to believe that posterity would rather suppose that they plundered from him, than he from them,-as Ben Jonson says, “ would deem it to be his as well as theirs,”—or even, perhaps, that his works alone would survive to future ages-certain it is, that instead of timidly and laboriously pilfering from old and obscure authors, Lord Byron at once appropriated to himself the finest thoughts of living writers. Whenever a peculiarly original idea was started, it was sure to appear on the next published pages of Lord Byron. Thus, when Montgomery sang,
" He only, like the ocean-weed uptorn,
And loose along the world of waters borne,
Was cast companionless from wave to wave," Lord Byron echoed,
“I am as the weed Torn from the rock on ocean's foam to sail, Where'er the surge may sweep, the tempest's breath prevail.” With regard to Lord Byron's obligations to Wordsworth, they are less verbal, and therefore less palpable; but no one, who is acquainted with the works of the two authors, can doubt but that Wordsworth is to be traced most palpably through the third and fourth cantos of Childe Harold. A poem, by Lord Byron, called the " Grave of Churchill," a fact literally rendered, is in its style a close copy of Wordsworth's - Resolution and Independence," from which I have given extracts. In a wonderfully fine passage in the Excursion, Wordsworth desires to " surrender himself to the elements," as if he 6 were a spirit,” and exclaims
" While the mists
.... What a joy to roam
An equal amongst mightiest energies !" Lord Byron seems to have had this in his thoughts, when he made Manfred say
Oh that I were
. Born and dying
The difference is only that Wordsworth's hopeful and cheering idea has become desponding and gloomy, in passing through the alembic of Lord Byron's brain. In VOL. I.
the one case it is the wish of a believing philosopher, exulting in the immortality which he feels to be his own : in the other, of an infidel voluptuary, jaded down to a prayer for annihilation. I mention these things to prove that persons, who admire (and justly) Lord Byron for the vigour of his verse, do most unjustly accuse Wordsworth of feebleness and puerility; and that while they quote with rapture, passages, which are at least suggested by Wordsworth's poetry, they are unconsciously doing honour to the genius of the latter.
Having now brought my defence to a close, I have only to repeat that, if my reader is of the same opinion as myself, he will not quarrel with me for having quoted so largely from Wordsworth's poems. In reading works of criticism, I have generally found that I enjoyed the extracts more than the critical commentary; and I can easily imagine, that the reader will peruse these pages with a similar feeling..
In conclusion, let me briefly recapitulate my reasons, both for denying Wordsworth a place amongst the greatest of our national poets, and for assigning him a high station amongst the band of true poets in general.
He has not produced any one great, original, and consistent work, or even any one poem of consequence, to which all these epithets can, with justice, be collectively applied. The want of a fixed style, the inequality of his compositions, the exuberant verbosity of some, and the eccentric meanness of others: the striking deficiency, which his works usually display, in judgment-a quality essential to the attainment of first-rate excellence—are all so many barriers betwixt Wordsworth and the summit of fame. Although it perhaps may be allowed, that Milton is the only poet who exceeds Wordsworth in devotional sublimity; yet, when we consider the universal excellence of the former in all that he has attempted—when we look upon him as the author of our great epic—it never can be conceded, that posterity will assign the latter a station beside him.
On the other hand, the variety of subjects, which Wordsworth has touched ; the varied powers which he has displayed; the passages of redeeming beauty interspersed even amongst the worst and the dullest of his productions ; the originality of detached thoughts scattered throughout works, to which, on the whole, we must deny the praise of originality; the deep pathos, and occasional grandeur of his lyre; the real poetical feeling which generally runs through its many modulations; his accurate observation of external nature; and the success with which he blends the purest and most devotional thoughts with the glories of the visible universe-all these are merits, which so far “make up in number what they want in weight,” that, although insufficient to raise him to the shrine, they fairly admit him within the sacred temple of poesy. While Shakspeare is pinnacled at almost an invisible height, “ sole-sitting” where others « dare not soar;" while Milton, Spenser, Thomson, and Collins, “aye sing around the cloudy throne;" Wordsworth may join the numerous and radiant band, who occupy the less daring heights of Parnassus, rifle its caves of " mildly-gleaming ore," arrange its flowers and turf into gardens of artificial beauty; or, as our poet, “snatch a grace beyond the reach of art” from the rocks and waterfalls that grace its wilder recesses.
POETRY OF THE PRESENT DAY.
(Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1830.)
The age in which we live has been fruitful of poetical works; we may venture to say, that it has been fruitful of poets. There has been no period, we believe, of our literature, since the age of Elizabeth, that has been marked by such an overflow of poetry. For although, through the whole of the intervening time, we may observe that the vein of poetry has been prevalent in the English nation, (we do not now speak of our own before that incorporation of the literature of the two countries, which the last half century has witnessed, although, on looking back, we recognise at every step familiar and honourable, and some illustrious names of the English Parnassus, yet we find at no time so many together of high distinction. And least of all do we find any number at one time; we find, indeed, few altogether to whom the language of verse is the language of imagination and passion. At no other period was the whole literature of the land tinged, coloured, and vivified with poetry. It will be matter of curious speculation to those who shall write the later history of English literature, to trace out the causes, while they mark the periods of the different appearances which our poetry has put on; and to explain how a people, adapted in their character for poetry, and at all times loving it in all its shapes, should have departed frequently so far from its genuine character, and from its impassioned spirit. In Milton, the power of poetry seemed to expire; not merely because no voice like his was heard, when his own voice had ceased; but because the very purposes of poetry seemed changed; and the demesnes of verse to be subjected to