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Examination of the tenets peculiar to Mr. Wordsworth—Rustic life (above :
all, low and rustic life) especially unfavorable to the formation of a human diction—The best parts of language the product of philosophers, not of clowns or shepherds—Poetry essentially ideal and generic-The language of Milton as much the language of real life, yea, incomparably more so than that of the cottager.
As far then as Mr. Wordsworth in his preface contended, and most ably contended, for a reformation in our poetic diction, as far as he has evinced the truth of passion, and the dramatic propriety of those figures and metaphors in the original poets, which, stripped of their justifying reasons, and converted into mere arti. fices of connexion or ornament, constitute the characteristic falsity in the poetic style of the moderns; and as far as he has, with equal acuteness and clearness, pointed out the process by which this change was effected, and the resemblances between that state into which the reader's mind is thrown by the pleasurable confusion of thought from an unaccustomed train of words and images, and that state which is induced by the natural lan. guage of impassioned feeling ; he undertook a useful task, and deserves all praise, both for the attempt and for the execution. The provocations to this remonstrance in behalf of truth and nature were still of perpetual recurrence before and after the publication of this preface. I cannot likewise but add, that the comparison of such poems of merit, as have been given to the public within the last ten or twelve years, with the majority of those produced previously to the appearance of that preface, leave no doubt on my mind, that Mr. Wordsworth is fully justified in believing his efforts to have been by no means inef. fectual. Not onıy in the verses of those who have professed their admiration of his genius, but even of those who have distin. guished themselves by hostility to his theory, and depreciation
of his writings, are the impressions of his principles plainly visible. It is possible, that with these principles others may have been blended, which are not equally evident; and some which are unsteady and subvertible from the narrowness or im. perfection of their basis. But it is more than possible, that these errors of defect or exaggeration, by kindling and feeding the controversy, may have conduced not only to the wider propaga. tion of the accompanying truths, but that, by their frequent pre. sentation to the mind in an excited state, they may have won for them a more permanent and practical result. A man will borrow a part from his opponent the more easily, if he feels him. self justified in continuing to reject a part.
While there remain important points in which he can still feel himself in the right, in which he still finds firm footing for continued resistance, he will gradually adopt those opinions, which were the least remote from his own convictions, as not less'congruous with his own theory than with that which he reprobates. In like manner, with a kind of instinctive prudence, he will abandon by little and little his weakest posts, till at length he seems to forget that they had ever belonged to him, or affects to consider them at most as accidental and “petty annexments,” the removal of which leaves the citadel unhurt and unendangered.
My own differences from certain supposed parts of Mr. Wordsworth's theory ground themselves on the assumption, that his words had been rightfully interpreted, as purporting that the proper diction for poetry in general consists altogether in a language taken, with due exceptions, from the mouths of men in real life, a language which actually constitutes the natural conversation of men under the influence of natural feelings. My objection is, first, that in any sense this rule is applicable only to certain classes of poetry; secondly, that even to these classes it is not applicable, except in such a sense, as hath never by any one (as far as I know or have read) been denied or doubted; and lastly, that as fa“ as, and in that degree in which it is practicable, it is yet as a rule useless, if not injurious, and therefore either need not, or ought not to be practised. The poet informs his reader *hat he had generally chosen low and rustic life ;' but
1 [In the last edition of this preface the word “humble” is substituted for “ low.” See P. W., ii., p. 306. Ed.]
not as low and rustic, or in order to repeat that pleasure of doubtful moral effect, which persons of elevated rank and of superior refinement oftentimes derive from a happy imitation of the rude unpolished manners and discourse of their inferiors. For the pleasure so derived may be traced to three exciting causes. The first is the naturalness, in fact, of the things represented. The second is the apparent naturalness of the representation, as raised and qualified by an imperceptible infusion of the author's own knowledge and talent, which infusion does, indeed, constitute it an imitation as distinguished from a mere copy. The third cause may be found in the reader's conscious feeling of his superiority awakened by the contrast presented to him ; even as for the same purpose the kings and great barons of yore retained, sometimes actual clowns and fools, but more frequently shrewd and witty fellows in that character. These, however, were not Mr. Wordsworth's objects. He chose low and rustic life, “ because in that condition the essential passions of the heart find a better soil, in which they can attain their ma: turity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language ; because in that condition of life our elementary feelings co-exist in a state of greater simplicity, and conse. quently may be more accurately contemplated, and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings; and from the necessary character of rural occupations are more easily comprehended, and are more durable ; and lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.”
Now it is clear to me, that in the most interesting of the poems, in which the author is more or less drarnatic, as The BROTHERS, MICHAEL, RUTH, THE MAD MOTHER, and others, the persons introduced are by no means taken from low or rustic life in the common acceptation of those words; and it is not less
· [The Brothers : P. W., i., p. 109. Michael, ib., p. 222. The Mad Mother, now simply entitled “ Her eyes are wild :" ib., p. 256 and Ruth, '!i., p. 106. Ed. The Edition of Mr. Wordsworth's Poems, referred to by Mr. Coleridge in this critique, is that of 1915, in two larg' vols., large ovo. S C.]
clear, that the sentiments and language, as far as they can be conceived to have been really transferred from the minds and conversation of such persons, are attributable to causes and cir. cumstances not necessarily connected with “ their occupations and abode.” The thoughts, feelings, language, and manners, of the shepherd-farmers in the vales of Cumberland and Westmoreland, as far as they are actually adopted in those poems, may be accounted for from causes, which will and do produce the same results in every state of life, whether in town or country. As the two principal I rank that independence, which raises a man above servitude, or daily toil for the profit of others, yet not above the necessity of industry and a frugal simplicity of domestic life; and the accompanying unambitious, but solid and religious education, which has rendered few books familiar, but the Bible, and the Liturgy or Hymn book. To this latter cause, indeed, which is so far accidental, that it is the blessing of particular countries, and a particular age, not the product of particular places or employments, the poet owes the show of probability, that his personages might really feel, think, and talk with any tolerable resemblance to his representation. It is an excellent remark of Dr. Henry More's, that " a man of confined education, but of good parts, by constant reading of the Bible will naturally form a more winning and commanding rhe. toric than those that are learned ; the intermixture of tongues and of artificial phrases de basing their style."
3 [Enthusiasmus Triumphatus, Sect. xxxv. “ For a man illiterate, as he was,* but of good parts, by constant reading of the Bible will naturally contract a more winning and commanding Rhetoric than those that are learned, the intermixture of tongues and of artificial phrases deforming their style, and making it sound more after the manner of men, though ordinarily there may be more of God in it than in that of the enthusiast.” P. 34, Ed. London, 1656. Dr. Henry More, the friend and colleague of Cudworth, was born in 1614, died 1687. He was educated in Christ College, Cambridge, in which University he spent his life. His theological works,-the chief of which are The Mystery of Godliness and a Modest Inquiry into the Mystery of Iniquity, a detailed argument against "he Church of Rome,-fill one large folio volume, and his philosophical
. (This is spoken of the enthusiast, David George, who was born at Delph; died 1556 8. C.)
It is, moreover, to be considered that to the formation of healthy feelings, and a reflecting mind, negations involve impe. diments not less formidable than sophistication and vicious inter. mixture. I am convinced, that for the human soul to prosper in rustic life a certain vantage-ground is pre-requisite. It is not every man that is likely to be improved by a country life or by country labors. Education, or original sensibility, or both, must pre-exist, if the changes, forms, and incidents of nature are to prove a sufficient stimulant. And where these are not sufficient, the mind contracts and hardens by want of stimulants; and the man becomes selfish, sensual, gross, and hard-hearted. Let the management of the Poor Laws in Liverpool, Manchester, or Bristol be compared with the ordinary dispensation of the poor rates in agricultural villages, where the farmers are the overseers and guardians of the poor. If my own experience have not been particularly unfortunate, as well as that of the many respectable country clergymen with whom I have conversed on the subject, the result would engender more than scepticism concerning the desirable influences of low and rustic-life in and for itself. Whatever may be concluded on the other side, from the stronger local attachments and enterprising spirit of the Swiss, and other mountaineers, applies to a particular mode of pastoral life, under forms of property that permit and beget manners truly republican, not to rustic life in general, or to the absence of artificial cultivation. On the contrary the mountaineers, whose manners have been so often eulogized, are in general better educated and greater readers than men of equal rank elsewhere. But where this is not the case, as among the peasantry of North
writings are numerous. He studied Plotinus, and, rejecting the doctrines of Aristotle and the scholastics, sought the principles of divine philosophy in the writings of the Platonists. Their teaching and that of the ancient Cabbalists he traced to the same source, the Hebrew Prophets, whose doctrines he believes to have been transmitted to Pythagoras and from him to Plato. Though an opponent of mystics and enthusiasts, his own mind had a strong tendency to mysticism; he was profoundly learned and of a con. templative spirit. Cousin says that in combating the errors of Des Cartes and Spinoza he showed great respect for the genius of these two philosophers S. C.]