Page images


The former subject continued—The neutral style, or that common to

Prose and Poetry, exemplified by specimens from Chaucer Herbert, and others.

I HAVE no fear in declaring my conviction, that the excellence defined and exemplified in the preceding chapter is not the characteristic excellence of Mr. Wordsworth's style ; because I can add with equal sincerity, that it is precluded by higher powers. The praise of uniform adherence to genuine, logical English is undoubtedly his; nay, laying the main emphasis on the word uniform, I will dare add that, of all contemporary poets, it is his alone. For, in a less absolute sense of the word, I should certainly include Mr. Bowles, Lord Byron, and, as to all his later writings, Mr. Southey, the exceptions in their works being so few and unimportant. But of the specific excellence described in the quotation from Garve, I appear to find more, and more undoubted specimens in the works of others; for instance, among the minor poems of Mr. Thomas Moore, and of our illustrious Laureate. To me it will always remain a singular and noticeable fact ; that a theory, which would establish this lingua communis, not only as the best, but as the only commendable style, should have proceeded from a poet, whose diction, next to that of Shakspeare and Milton, appears to me of all others the most individualized and characteristic. And let it be remembered too, that I am now interpreting the controverted passages of Mr. Wordsworth's critical preface by the purpose and object, which he may be supposed to have intended, rather than by the sense which the words themselves must convey, if they are taken without this allowance.

A person of any taste, who had but studied three or four of Shakspeare's principal plays, would without the name affixed

scarcely fail to recognise as Shakspeare's a quotation from any other play, though but of a few lines. A similar peculiarity, though in a less degree, attends Mr. Wordsworth's style, whenever he speaks in his own person; or whenever, though under a feigned name, it is clear that he himself is still speaking, as in the different dramatis persona of THE RECLUSE. Even in the other poems, in which he purposes to be most dramatic, there are few in which it does not occasionally burst forth. The reader might often address the poet in his own words with refer. ence to the persons introduced :

" It seems, as I retrace the ballad line by line

That but half of it is theirs, and the better half is thine."

Who, having been previously acquainted with any considerable portion of Mr. Wordsworth's publications, and having studied them with a full feeling of the author's genius, would not at once claim as Wordsworthian the little poem on the rainbow ?

“ The Child is father of the man,” &c.?

Or in the Lucy Gray?

“ No mate, no comrade Lucy knew;
She dwelt on a wide moor;
The sweetest thing that ever grew
Beside a human door.”3


1 [Altered from The Pet Lamb, P. W., p. 30. S. C.] 2 P. W., p. 2, line 7.

“ My heart leaps up when 1 behold

A rainbow in the sky;
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die !
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.” S. C.] 3 [Ib., i., p. 16. S. C.]

+ [Ib., i., p. 31. S. C.]

“ Along the river's stony marge

The sand-lark chants a joyous song;
The thrush is busy in the wood,
And carols loud and strong.
A thousand lambs are on the rocks,
All newly born! both earth and sky
Keep jubilee, and more than all,
Those boys with their green coronal;
They never hear the cry,
That plaintive cry! which up the hill

Comes from the depth of Dungeon-Ghyll.”
Need I mention the exquisite description of the Sea-Loch in
THE BLIND HIGHLAND Boy? Who but a poet tells a tale in such
language to the little ones by the fireside as-

“ Yet had he many a restless dream;

Both when he heard the eagle's scream,
And when he heard the torrents roar,
And heard the water beat the shore

Near where their cottage stood.
Beside a lake their cottage stood,
Not small like ours, a peaceful flood;
But one of mighty size, and strange ;
That, rough or smooth, is full of change,

And stirring in its bed.
For to this lake, by night and day,
The great Sea-water finds its way,
Through long, long windings of the hills,
And drinks up all the pretty rills

And rivers large and strong:
Then hurries back the road it came-
Returns on errand still the same;
This did it when the earth was new;
And this for evermore will do,

As long as earth shall last.

And, with the coming of the tide,
Come boats and ships that sweetly ride,
Between the woods and lofty rocks;
And to the shepherds with their flocks

Bring tales of distant lands."5

6 [Ib., iii., pp. 145-6. Mr. Wordsworth has altered “ sweetly" in the I might quote almost the whole of his Ruth, but take the following stanzas :

[blocks in formation]

last stanza to “safely.” In the first I venture to prefer “ the eagle's scream,” which my father wrote, to “ the eagles,” as it is written by Mr. Wordsworth—because eagles are neither gregarious nor numerous, and the first expression seems to mark the nature of the bird, and to bring it more interestingly before the mind, than the last. S. C.]

6 [P. W., ii., p. 106. S. C.]

which already form three-fourths of his works; and will, I trust, constitute hereafter a still larger proportion ;—from these, whether in rhyme or blank verse, it would be difficult and almost superfluous to select instances of a diction peculiarly his own, of a style which cannot be imitated without its being at once recognised, as originating in Mr. Wordsworth. It would not be easy to open on any one of his loftier strains, that does not contain examples of this; and more in proportion as the lines are more excellent, and most like the author. For those, who may happen to have been less familiar with his writings, I will give three specimens taken with little choice. The first from the lines on the Boy of WINANDER-MERE, who

“ Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls,

That they might answer him. And they would shout
Across the watery vale, and shout again,
With long halloos, and screams, and echoes loud
Redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild
Of mirth and jocund din! And when it chanced,
That pauses of deep silence mocked his skill,
Then sometimes in that silence, while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain-torrents ; or the visible scene 8

7 [There was a Boy. P. W., ii., p. 79. S. C.]

8 Mr. Wordsworth's having judiciously adopted “ concourse wild” in this passage for “ a wild scene" as it stood in the former edition, encourages me to hazard a remark, which I certainly should not have made in the works of a poet less austerely accurate in the use of words, than he is, to his own great honor. It respects the propriety of the word “ scene," even in the sentence in which it is retained. Dryden, and he only in his more careless verses, was the first, as far as my researches have discovered, who for the convenience of rhyme used this word in the vague sense, which has been since too current even in our best writers, and which (unfortunately, I think) is given as its first explanation in Dr. Johnson's Dictionary, and therefore would be taken by an incautious reader as its proper sense. In Shakspeare and Milton the word is never used without some clear reference, proper or metaphorical, to the theatre. Thus Milton;

" Cedar, and pine, and fir, and branching palm

A sylvan scene ; and, as the ranks ascend
Shade above shade, a woody theatre
Of stateliest view.”*

* (Par. Lost, iv., 1. 139. B.C.]

« PreviousContinue »