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But such a one, on English ground,
The words here are doubtless such as are current in all ranks of life; and of course not less so in the hamlet and cottage than in the shop, manufactory, college, or palace. But is this the or. der in which the rustic would have placed the words ? I am grievously deceived, if the following less compact mode of commencing the same tale be not a far more faithful copy. “I have been in a many parts, far and near, and I don't know that I ever saw before a man crying by himself in the public road; a grown man I mean, that was neither sick nor hurt, &c., &c.” But when I turn to the following stanza in The Thorn:
“At all times of the day and night
This wretched woman thither goes;
and compare this with the language of ordinary men; or with that which I can conceive at all likely to proceed, in real life, from such a narrator, as is supposed in the note to the poem ; compare it either in the succession of the images or of the sentences; I am reminded of the sublime prayer and hymn of praise, which Milton, in opposition to an established liturgy, presents as a fair specimen of common extemporary devotion, and such as we might expect to hear from every self-inspired minister of a conventicle! And I reflect with delight, how little a mere theory,
i [The Last of the Flock, 1st stanza. 2 [P. W., vol. ii., p. 127. S. C.]
P. W., vol. i., p. 169. S. C.]
though of his own workmanship, interferes with the processes of genuine imagination in a man of true poetic genius, who possesses, as Mr. Wordsworth, if ever man did, most assuredly does possess,
“ The Vision and the Faculty divine.”3 One point then alone remains, but that the most important; its examination having been, indeed, my chief inducement for the preceding inquisition. “ There neither is nor can be any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition.” Such is Mr. Wordsworth's assertion. Now prose itself, at least in all argumentative and consecutive works, differs, and ought to differ, from the language of conversation ; even as'
3 [The Excursion, B. i. P. W., vi., p. 6. S. C.)
4 [P. W., ii., p. 315. Preface. The word essential is marked with italics in the edition of 1840. S. C.]
5 It is no less an error in teachers, than a torment to the poor children, to enforce the necessity of reading as they would talk. In order to cure them of singing as it is called, that is, of too great a difference, the child is made to repeat the words with his eyes from off the book ; and then, indeed, his tones resemble talking, as far as his fears, tears, and trembling will permit. But as soon as the eye is again directed to the printed page, the spell begins anew ; for an instinctive sense tells the child's feelings, that to utter its own momentary thoughts, and to recite the written thoughts of another, as of another, and a far wiser than himself, are two widely different things; and as the two acts are accompanied with widely different feelings, so must they justify different modes of enunciation. Joseph Lancaster, among his other sophistications of the excellent Dr. Bell's invaluable system, cures this fault of singing, by hanging fetters and chains on the child, to the music of which one of his school-fellows, who walks before, dolefully chants out the child's last speech and confession, birth, parentage, and education. And this soul benumbing ignominy, this unholy and heart-hardening burlesque on the last fearful infliction of outraged law, in pronouncing the sentence to which the stern and familiarized judge not seldom bursts into tears, has been extolled as a happy and ingenious method of remedying-what? and how ?-why, one extreme in order to introduce another, scarce less distant from good sense, and certainly likely to have worse moral effects, by enforcing a semblance of petulant ease and selfsufficiency, in repression, and possible after-perversion of the natural feel. ings. I have to beg Dr. Bell's pardon for this connexion of the two names, but he knows that contrast is no less powerful a cause of association than likeness.
reading ought to differ from talking. Unless therefore the differ. ence denied be that of the mere words, as materials common to all styles of writing, and not of the style itself in the universally admitted sense of the term, it might be naturally presumed that there must exist a still greater between the ordonnance of poetic composition and that of prose, than is expected to distinguish prose from ordinary conversation.
There are not, indeed, examples wanting in the history of literature, of apparent paradoxes that have summoned the public wonder as new and startling truths, but which, on examination, have shrunk into tame and harmless truisms; as the eyes of a cat, seen in the dark, have been mistaken for flames of fire. But Mr. Wordsworth is among the last men, to whom a delusion of this kind would be attributed by any one, who had enjoyed the slightest opportunity of understanding his mind and character. Where an objection has been anticipated by such an author as natural, his answer to it must needs be interpreted in some sense which either is, or has been, or is capable of being controverted. My object then must be to discover some other meaning for the term “ essential difference” in this place, exclusive of the in. distinction and community of the words themselves. For whether there ought to exist a class of words in the English, in any degree resembling the poetic dialect of the Greek and Italian, is a ques. tion of very subordinate importance. The number of such words would be small indeed, in our language; and even in the Italian and Greek, they consist not so much of different words, as of slight differences in the forms of declining and conjugating the same words; forms, doubtless, which having been, at some period more or less remote, the common grammatic flexions of some tribe or province, had been accidentally appropriated to poetry by the general admiration of certain master intellects, the first established lights of inspiration, to whom that dialect happened to be native.
Essence, in its primary signification, means the principle of individuation, the inmost principle of the possibility of anything, as that particular thing. It is equivalent to the idea of a thing, whenever we use the word, idea, with philosophic precision. Existence, on the other hand, is distinguished from essence, by
the superinduction of reality. Thus we speak of the essence, and essential properties of a circle ; but we do not, therefore, assert, that anything, which really exists, is mathematically cir. cular. Thus, too, without any tautology, we contend for the existence of the Supreme Being ; that is, for a reality correspondent to the idea. There is, next, a secondary use of the word essence, in which it signifies the point or ground of contra-distinction between two modifications of the same substance or subject. Thus we should be allowed to say, that the style of architecture of Westminster Abbey is essentially different from that of Saint Paul, even though both had been built with blocks cut into the same form, and from the same quarry. Only in this latter sense of the term must it have been denied by Mr. Wordsworth (for in this sense alone is it affirmed by the general opinion) that the language of poetry (that is the formal construction, or architecture, of the words and phrases) is essentially different from that of prose. Now, the burden of the proof lies with the oppugner, not with the supporters of the common belief. Mr. Wordsworth, in consequence, assigns, as the proof of his · position, “ that not only the language of a large portion of every good poem, even of the most elevated character, must necessarily, except with reference to the metre, in no respect differ from that of good prose, but likewise that some of the most inter. esting parts of the best poems will be found to be strictly the language of prose, when prose is well written. The truth of this assertion might be demonstrated by innumerable passages from almost all the poetical writings, even of Milton himself." He then quotes Gray's sonnet
“ In vain to me the smiling mornings shine ;
The fields to all their wonted tribute bear;
and adds the following remark :-“It will easily be perceived, that the only part of this Sonnet which is of any value, is the lines printed in Italics; it is equally obvious, that, except in the rhyme, and in the use of the single word “fruitless' for fruitlessly, which is so far a defect, the language of these lines does in no respect differ from that of prose.”
An idealist, defending his system by the fact that when asleep we often believe ourselves awake, was well answered by his plain neighbor, “ Ah, but when awake do we ever believe our. selves asleep?" Things identical must be convertible. The preceding passage seems to rest on a similar sophism. For the question is not, whether there may not occur in prose an order of words, which would be equally proper in a poem ; nor whether there are not beautiful lines and sentences of frequent occurrence in good poems, which would be equally becoming as well as beautiful in good prose ; for neither the one nor the other has ever been denied or doubted by any one. The true question must be, whether there are not modes of expression, a construction, and an order of sentences, which are in their fit and natural place in a serious prose composition, but would be disproportionate and heterogeneous in metrical poetry; and, vice versâ, whether in the language of a serious poem there may not be an arrangement both of words and sentences, and a use and selection of (what are called) figures of speech, both as to their kind, their frequency, and their occasions, which on a subject of equal weight would be vicious and alien in correct and manly prose. I contend, that in both cases this unfitness of each for the place of the other frequently will and ought to exist.
And first, from the origin of metre. This I would trace to the balance in the mind effected by that spontaneous effort which strives to hold in check the workings of passion. It might be easily explained likewise in what manner this salutary antagonism
6 [P. W., ii., pp. 313–14. S. C.]