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18th-19th century, and all that Shakespeare and Milton are now,' is to violate alike probability and proportion. Those features which repel the general reader in the Lake poet's verse are all the more pronounced in his prose, because they here appear without that air of mystery and remoteness which metre gives them. The contents of these volumes are classified in three divisions, styled respectively, 'Political,' 'Ethical,'Critical;' yet, various and distinct as are the species of essay to which this order points, Wordsworth, whatever be his subject, writes as if he were engaged on but one kind of composition-a sermon. He seems to regard the principles of taste and politics as no less axiomatic than those of morals. Hence, though his political pamphlets possess many remarkable excellencies, his efforts in that kind of writing are usually ineffective. Want of instinct and humour made him unskilful as a rhetorician; he did not understand the passions of his audience, nor was he able to suppress his partiality for his own conclusions, so as to perceive how an object would strike an ordinary mind. He takes up arms, for instance, against Brougham in an election contest; but when he ought to be driving his antagonist out of the field with sarcasm and invective, he reads the freeholders a lecture on the Constitution. His pamphlet on The Convention of Cintra,' abounding as it does in fine passages, studied after the manner of Burke, is spoiled by its air of exaggeration. The writer approaches his theme-a mere particular incident of military diplomacy-as if it contained vast social issues like the French Revolution, and as if it were possible to inflame men's intellects in the same manner as their passions. His indignation at what he considers the folly and want of principle of Wellesley and his lieutenants, knows no bounds; but, in the midst of his invective, he suddenly stops to enter into a cold consideration of the causes that hamper the action of a Constitutional Government in time of war. Excessive self-confidence sometimes betrayed him into serious offences against good breeding. In 1793, at a time when all England experienced a thrill of horror at the murder of Louis XVI., Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, published a sermon reflecting on the event; and, as the pamphlet had an extensive sale, it may be supposed to have expressed, not unhappily, the popular feeling of the moment. Wordsworth, in reply, wrote an 'Apology for the French Revolution,' in the form of a letter to the bishop, in which he likens the latter to a drunken man ;' and tells him that he has fallen into the tide of contempt, to be swept down to the Ocean of Oblivion.' Curiously enough,
his faith in the eternal nature of his own abstract premises is never shaken by the consideration that they appear to admit of contradictory conclusions. Thus, in 1793, he writes loftily to the said Bishop Watson, Philosophers will turn their thoughts to the system of universal representation;' while, in 1829, though Mr. Grosart gives us to understand that, even in old age, William Wordsworth would never have disavowed a syllable of his "Apology," we find him arguing against Čatholic relief.
It is, however, rather to the critical than the political writings of Wordsworth that we wish now to direct attention. The former, as Mr. Grosart says, form an epoch in the history of criticism, and we have ourselves frequently had occasion to refer to them in our reviews of the state of English poetry. Throughout the present century a revolution, alike in poetical practice and in men's opinions about poetry, has been silently accomplishing itself. This revolution has, we believe, now reached its natural limits; and it may be said that critical opinion in England is divided between two rival theories, one of which affirms that the essence of poetry lies in the poet's thought, the language and metre in which that thought is expressed being mere accidents and auxiliaries, while the other as confidently holds that the end of metrical language is to produce effects upon the senses, in the same way as the painter or the musician works by means of colour and sound. These opinions, so distinct, and so mutually destructive, may be traced back to one set of causes, and, so far as effects of such magnitude and importance can be said to be the work of any single man, to one great original-William Wordsworth. We are aware that we have against us the weight of Macaulay's opinion. Writing, Writing, as he did, before the revolution of which we speak had fully developed itself, and relying upon considerations which appear to us more striking than essential, Macaulay ascribed to Byron the chief part in the emancipation of English poetry from eighteenth-century influences. But Byron was, to all intents and purposes, a poetical Tory. He gave, indeed, amplitude and variety to the classical style, but he sought not to tamper with its structure; he ventured upon subjects of which the followers of Dryden and Pope never dreamed, but his method of composition is identical with theirs; he introduced no principle which Aristotle would have forbidden, or Horace have disapproved. Wordsworth, on the other hand, questioned everything, reversed everything, we might almost say, destroyed everything, which had been established by the experience of a hundred generations. We seize the opportunity
of the publication of these volumes to inquire what was that ancient practice of poetry which Wordsworth sought to subvert, and what that method of his own by which he hoped to replace it. And, in order to make the subject more definite and intelligible, we shall take for our text the attack which Wordsworth makes on eighteenth-century poetry in the person of Gray. 'Gray,' says he, 'was at the head of those poets who, by their reasonings, have attempted to widen the space of separation betwixt prose and metrical composition, and was, more than any other man, curiously elaborate in the structure of his own poetical diction' (vol. ii. p. 85). Here, then, is a distinct and vital issue, raised by the founder of the modern romantic school of poetry, in the shape of an indictment against one of the most illustrious representatives of the English classics. Let us endeavour to form a judgment on the case. Repulsive as it is to pursue an elementary inquiry into the nature of the most social and beautiful of the arts, such criticism may not be nugatory, if it can succeed in defining with any precision the principles on which all sound poetry is composed.
The indictment, then, brought by Wordsworth against Gray is twofold. Gray, it seems, had in the first place a false conception of the nature of poetry; and, secondly, a false standard of poetical diction. To begin with the first count, Gray, we are told, sought to widen the space of separation betwixt prose and metrical composition. What this charge amounts to we shall see hereafter. Meantime, did Wordsworth think that between prose and poetry there was any line of demarcation at all? In the Preface from which we have quoted we read:
'There neither is nor can be any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition. We are fond of tracing the resemblance between Poetry and Painting, and accordingly we call them sisters; but where shall we find bonds of connection sufficiently strong to typify the connection betwixt prose and metrical composition?'-Vol. ii. p. 86.
Now this question admits of a very definite answer. Take the Iliad of Homer and a proposition of Euclid. Is it conceivable that the latter could have been expressed at all in metre, or the former expressed half so well in prose? If not, what is the reason? Is it not plain that the poem contains a predominant element of imagination and feeling which is absolutely excluded from the proposition? And in the same way it may be shown that whenever a man expresses himself properly in metre, the subject-matter of his composition belongs to imagination or feeling; whenever he writes in prose his subject belongs to or
(if the prose be fiction) intimately resembles matter of fact. We may decide then with certainty that the sphere of poetry lies in Imagination, and that the larger the amount of just liberty the Imagination enjoys, the better will be the poetry it produces. But then a further question arises, and this is the key of the whole position, How far does this liberty extend? Is Imagination absolute, supreme, and uncontrolled in its own sphere, or is it under the guidance and government of reason? That its dominion is not universal is obvious, but of its influence we are all conscious, and there is no exaggeration in the eloquent words of Pascal:
This mighty power, the perpetual antagonist of reason, which delights to show its ascendency by bringing her under its control and dominion, has created a second nature in man. It has its joys and its sorrows; its health, its sickness; its wealth, its poverty; it compels reason, in spite of herself, to believe, to doubt, to deny; it suspends the exercise of the senses, and imparts to them again an artificial acuteness; it has its follies and its wisdom; and the most perverse thing of all is that it fills its votaries with a complacency more full and complete even than that which reason can supply.'
If such be the force of Imagination in active life, how absolute must be its dominion in poetry! And absolute it is, if we are to believe Wordsworth, who defines poetry to be the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion.' This definition coincides well with modern notions on the nature of the art. But how different is the view if we turn from theory to practice! It would surely be a serious mistake to describe the noblest poems, like theneid' or 'Paradise Lost,' as the product of mere spontaneous emotion. And even in lyric verse, to which it may be said Wordsworth is specially alluding, we find the greatest poets, like Pindar and Simonides, composing their odes for set occasions like the public games, in honour of persons with whom they were but little acquainted, and (most significant fact of all) in the expectation of receiving liberal rewards. We need not say that such considerations detract nothing from the genius of these great poets; but they prove very conclusively that poetry is not what Wordsworth's definition asserts, and what in these days it is too often assumed to be, the mere gush of unconscious inspiration. The definition of Wordsworth may perhaps suit short lyrics, such as he was himself in the habit of composing, but it would be fatal to the claims of poetry to rank among the higher arts, for it would exclude that quality which, in poetry as in all art, is truly sovereign, Invention. The poet, no less than the mechanical inventor, excels by the exercise
of reason, by his knowledge of the required effect, his power of adapting means to ends, and his skill in availing himself of circumstances. Consider for a moment the external difficulties which restrict the poet's liberty, and require the most vigorous. efforts of reason to subdue them. To begin with, in order to secure the happy result promised by Horace,
'Cui lecta potenter erit res Nec facundia deseret hunc nec lucidus ordo,' he has to take the exact measure of his own powers. How many a poet has failed for want of judgment by trespassing a subject and style for which his genius is unfitted! Again, he is confronted by the most obvious difficulties of language and metre, which limit his freedom to a degree unknown to the prose-writer. And beyond this, if he wishes to be read-and a poem without readers is no more than a musical instrument without a musician-he has to consider the character of his audience. He must have all the instinct of an orator, all the intuitive knowledge of the world, as well as all the practical resource, which are required to gain command over the hearts of men, and to subdue, by the charms of eloquence, their passions, their prejudices, and their judgment. To achieve such results something more is required than the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.'
How far Wordsworth's own poetry illustrates his principles we shall consider presently; meantime his definition helps us to understand what he meant by Gray's fault of widening the space of separation betwixt prose and metrical composition. Neither in respect of the quantity nor the quality of his verse could Gray's manner of composition be described as spontaneous. Compared. with Wordsworth's numerous volumes of poetry, the slender volume that contains the poetry of Gray looks meagre indeed; yet almost every poem in this small collection is a considered work of art. To begin with 'The Bard.' Few readers, we suppose, would rise from this ode without a sense of its poetical effect.' The details may be thought to require too much attention; the allusions, from the nature of the subject, are, no doubt, difficult; but a feeling of loftiness, of harmony, of proportion, remains in the mind at the close of the poem, which is not likely to pass away. How, then, was this effect produced? First of all we see that Gray had selected a good subject; his raw materials, so to speak, were poetical. The imagination, unembarrassed by common associations, breathes freely in its own region, and is instinctively elevated as it moves. among the great events of the past, dwelling on the misfortunes of