Page images

it was a reasonable thing that he should take a review of his own mind, and examine how far Nature and Education had qualified him for such employment. As subsidiary to this preparation, he undertook to record, in verse, the origin and progress of his own powers, as far as he was acquainted with thein. That Work, addressed to a dear Friend, most distinguished for his knowledge and genius, and to whom the Author's Intellect is deeply indebted, has been long finished ; and the result of the investigation which gave rise to it was a determination to compose a philosophical poem, containing views of Man, Nature, and Society; and to be entitled, the Recluse ; as having for its principal subject the sensations and opinions of a poet living in retirement. — The preparatory poem is biographical, and conducts the history of the Author's mind to the point when he was emboldened to hope that his faculties were sufficiently matured for entering upon the arduous labour which he had proposed to himself; and the two works have the same kind of relation to each other, if he may so express himself, as the ante-chapel has to the body of a Gothic church. Continuing this allusion, he may be permitted to add, that his minor pieces, which have been long before the public, when they shall be properly arranged, will be found by the attentive reader to have such connection with the main work as may give them claim to be likened to the little cells, oratories, and sepulchral recesses, ordinarily included in those edifices.

The Author would not have deemed himself justified in saying, upon this occasion, so much of performances either finished, or unpublished, if he had not thought that the labour bestowed by him upon what he has heretofore and now laid before the public, entitled him

to candid attention for such a statement as he thinks necessary to throw light upon his endeavours to please, and, he would hope, to benefit his countrymen. Nothing further need be added than that the first and third parts of 'The Recluse' will consist chiefly of meditations in the author's own person ; and that in the intermediate part (“The Excursion') the intervention of characters speaking is employed, and something of a dramatic form adopted. · It is not the Author's intention formally to announce a system : it was more animating to him to proceed in a different course ; and if he shall succeed in conveying to the mind clear thoughts, lively images, and strong feelings, the reader will have no difficulty in extracting the system for himself.



A summer forenoon — The Author reaches a ruined cottage

upon a common, and there meets with a revered friend, the Wanderer, of whom he gives an account. - The Wanderer, while resting under the shade of the trees that surround the cottage, relates the history of its last inhabitant.

'Twas summer, and the sun had mounted high :
Southward, the landscape indistinctly glared
Through a pale steam ; but all the northern downs,
In clearest air ascending, show'd far off
A surface dappled o'er with shadows, flung
From many a brooding cloud ; far as the sight

Could reach, those many shadows lay in spots
Determined and unmoved, with steady beams
Of bright and pleasant sunshine interposed ;
Pleasant to him who on the soft cool moss
Extends his careless limbs along the front
Of some huge cave, whose rocky ceiling casts
A twilight of its own, an ample shade,
Where the wren warbles ; while the dreaming man,
Half conscious of the soothing melody,
With silent eye looks out upon the scene,
By that impending covert made more soft,
More low and distant! Other lot was mine;
Yet with good hope that soon I should obtain
As grateful resting-place, and livelier joy.
Across a bare wide common I was toiling
With languid feet, which by the slippery ground
Were baffled; nor could my weak arm disperse
The host of insects gathering round my face,
And ever with me as I paced along.

Upon that open level stood a grove,
The wish'd-for port to which my steps were bound.
Thither I came, and there — amid the gloom
Spread by a brotherhood of lofty elms —
Appear'd a roofless hut; four naked walls
That stared upon each other! I look'd round,
And to my wish and to my hope espied
Him whom I sought; a man of reverend age,
But stout and hale, for travel unimpaired.
There was he seen upon the cottage-bench,
Recumbent in the shade, as if asleep;
An iron-pointed staff lay at his side.

Here follows a description of the poet's early acquaintance

with the old man whose natural eloquence and dignity of demeanour he extols. The poem then proceeds :

O many are the poets that are sown
By nature ! men endowed with highest gifts —
The vision, and the faculty divine —

Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse
(Which in the docile season of their youth
It was denied them to acquire, through lack
Of culture and the inspiring aid of books;
Or haply by a temper too severe ;
Or a nice backwardness afraid of shame),
Nor having e'er, as life advanced, been led
By circumstance to take unto the height
The measure of themselves, these favour'd Beings,
All but a scatter'd few, live out their time,
Husbanding that which they possess within,
And go to the grave unthought of. Strongest minds
Are often those of whom the noisy world
Hears least ; else surely this man had not left
His graces unreveal’d and unproclaimd.
But, as the mind was fill'd with inward light,
So not without distinction had he lived,
Beloved and honour'd — far as he was known.
And sone small portion of his eloquent speech,
And something that may serve to set in view
The feeling pleasures of his loneliness,
His observations, and the thoughts his mind
Had dealt with — I will here record in verse ;
Which, if with truth it correspond, and sink
Or rise, as venerable Nature leads,
The high and tender Muses shall accept
With gracious smile, deliberately pleased,
And listening Time reward with sacred praise.

The history of the Wanderer is then traced from childhood when he was employed as beseemed one of the numerous progeny of a small Scotch farmer, having the advantage of schooling only during the winter months. The small supply of books from the minister's shelf was read, and read again ; and his mind was stored with traditions cleaving to the mountains, and legends which peopled the dark woods and dreary caves.

But he had felt the power Of Nature, and already was prepared

By his intense conceptions, to receive
Deeply the lesson deep of love which he
Whom Nature, by whatever means, has taught
To feel intensely, cannot but receive.

From early childhood, even as hath been said, From his sixth year, he had been sent abroad In summer to tend herds : such was his task Thenceforward till the later day of youth. O then what soul was his, when, on the tops Of the high mountains, he beheld the sun Rise up, and bathe the world in light! He look’dOcean and earth, the solid frame of earth And ocean's liquid mass, beneath him lay In gladness and deep joy. The clouds were touch'd, And in their silent faces did he read Unutterable love. Sound needed none, Nor any voice of joy ; his spirit drank The spectacle ; sensation, soul, and form All melted into him ; they swallow'd up His animal being ; in them did he live, And by them did he live : they were his life. In such access of mind, in such high hour Of visitation from the living God, Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired. No thanks he breathed, he proffer'd no request; Rapt into still communion that transcends The imperfect offices of prayer and praise, His mind was a thanksgiving to the Power That made him ; it was blessedness and love !

A herdsman on the lonely mountain-tops,
Such intercourse was his, and in this sort
Was his existence oftentimes possess'd.
Oh! then how beautiful, how bright, appear'd
The written Promise. Early had he learn'd
To reverence the Volume that displays
The mystery — the life which cannot die :
But in the mountains did he feel his faith;
There did he see the writing — all things there

« PreviousContinue »