Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

3

commentary upon every individual writer. She is prepared to be told that she has passed too lightly over some important names; and if some lesser ones have escaped her altogether, to receive with humility any strictures which may be pronounced upon her on this account. Her aim has been to set forth the remarkable outburst of new and noble genius by which the end of last century and the beginning of our own was distinguished, and made into a great and individual age in literature. It is hard to cut the line clear across all those intertwinings of human life and influence by which one generation links itself to another; and consequently the story will be found to overlap the boundaries on both sides, now going too far back, now reaching too far forward. The kind and sympathetic reader will see how this comes about, and how the uneven lines of life-some cut so sadly short, some holding on their course up to old agecannot fail to leave an irregular outline. For all faults of omission or redundancy, she makes her apology beforehand, with the hope of being able to amend them at some future time.

PREFACE TO THE NEW ISSUE.

I AM glad to take the opportunity thus given me to answer one or two of the more important remarks that have been made by critics upon this book. In the first place, as it is most easily to be done, I have to express my great regret for the mistake by which all mention of Lockhart's spirited and admirable Spanish Ballads were left out of the notice of his works. The mistake arose from the introduction of him, in the first place, as a critic, with an intention of afterwards returning to his general writings-an arrangement which, after some thought, I rejected as troublesome and confusing. Between these two stools fell out one of the most animated and striking of poetical reproductions. Something has been said of the vivid conception of some portions of his novels. The ballads are of the very highest quality in so far as they are translations; and as poetical equivalents, so to speak, in English, of a series of fine originals, they are something more.

It is, however, in respect to Wordsworth that there is most to say. Brought up in his worship and service, I find myself treated as a publican and an infidel by those who consider themselves his expositors in the

present generation; and learn with astonishment that the instances of his power which I have chosen please them little more than the exceptions which I have taken. In one particular-that of his Sonnets-I have nothing more to do than to own a personal deficiency which no doubt impairs my judgment, but which it is more honest to confess than to attempt to ignore. A sonnet may be a work of supreme and exquisite art - but it may be at the same time, almost more than any other form of poetical composition, a strained and artificial medium. And I think the mental faculty is rare which can keep its ear clear and its soul alive as it takes its way through the linked sweetness long drawn out of series after series of such compositions. I am glad that there are so many critics who are capable of this high appreciation, but I am not myself one of them. The severity of the art and its monotony are above my level. I recognise the perfection of a few-but I cannot go farther. It is an individual disability which I can only deplore.

A word more seems to be necessary as to one quotation made, at which various of my critics have taken exception, the little poem about the child and the weathercock, which it seems now has puzzled more, even of the most genuine Wordsworthians, than it has edified. It appears to me to belong to a section of Wordsworth's poems in which he is almost, if not altogether, unrivalled-Victor Hugo's amazing realisations of infantine qualities and gifts being the only others that occur to me as fit to be spoken

of in the same breath-with this difference, however, that the great Frenchman's conceptions are individual and those of Wordsworth abstract. The great Ode on the Intimations of Immortality is the centre of this infantile revelation. It is not, perhaps, for this that it is chiefly prized: but when we separate the little figure in the midst of all these immortalities from the high reflections and suggestions that open heaven and earth about him, we can scarcely help recognising that our poet has left us no more complete (if any such complete) impersonation. The "six years darling of a pigmy size," conning a thousand parts, trying every way in which life is shaped, unawares, in an unconscious study which is his play and highest delight, is something found out for us by the highest genius amid the most usual, the universal surroundings of our common life, where no one had ever found it before; and the child who takes her little porringer to her brother's grave and eats her supper there, with him, and the boy whose eye caught the weathercock when he was in want of a reason, and solemnly appropriated it, are companion sketches belonging to the greater picture. No one else, so far as I am aware, has perceived and identified the instantaneous adoption of the first visible symbol which occurs, to represent the unseen, which is so natural to that primitive mind, of which the child is our only untrammelled and unabashed exponent. Neither he nor the greatest philosopher could explain that caprice of liking which is, in some respects, the most tragic thing in human nature, continually select

ing the worst instead of the best; but the boy eludes his problem triumphantly by a grasp at the first sign that comes to his hand with a boldness which the rest of us are not equal to. A prosaic parent would probably have administered a lecture or a shake to the little deceiver, but tears of sudden discovery, of divine, compassionate, and tender perception, come to the poet's eyes. So we might suppose an angel to smile and weep together at those sudden dashes at a reason by which to justify the preference which has none,—those interpositions of motive and meaning after the event, with which humanity attempts to account for its follies.

One further and much smaller piece of self-defence. One of my critics has accused me of so much carelessness as not even to have quoted Wordsworth right. It is an accusation to which, in common I suppose with most people in whom the crispness of youthful memory has become blunted, I am not unlikely to be open-indeed I acknowledge, with confusion, a misprint of a verse of Shelley's which has escaped revision; but in the case of the Wordsworth quotations the censure is without foundation, as I find by careful comparison. There are occasional differences no doubt in different editions. The quotations were all corrected from a "complete popular edition" referred to for convenience as being in one volume, which was published by Moxon in 1869.

M. O. W. O.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »