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Lecture on Wordsworth, delivered to the Members of the Brighton Athenæum, on February 10th, 1853.
In order to treat fully the subject which I have to bring before you this evening, I believe there are three points to which I ought principally to direct your attention. The first is, the qualifications necessary for appreciating poetry in general, and for appreciating the poetry of Wordsworth in particular. The second is the character and life of Wordsworth, so far as they bear upon his poetry, and so far as they may have been supposed to have formed or modified his peculiar poetical theories and principles. The third point is, the theories and poetical principles of Wordsworth, and how far they are true, how far they have been exaggerated, and how far Wordsworth has himself worked out the principles he has laid down.
Now, it will be plain that the last of these is the most important point of all: it is, in fact, the subject of our consideration; but so many preliminary subjects have presented themselves which must be gone into before we enter upon this, that I have found it necessary to reserve this third topic for a
succeeding lecture,* confining myself on the present occasion merely to the two first points that I have already named.
I have undertaken to lecture this evening upon Wordsworth. To some persons this will appear presumption; to others, it will appear superfluous. To all the admirers of Wordsworth's genius, it will appear presumption. To these I simply reply, I know well the difficulty of the subject, I know how impossible it is to treat it adequately; I am aware that presumption is implied in the thought, that before it is possible to criticise a man one must sympathise with him, and that to sympathise with a man implies that there is, to a certain extent, a power of breathing the same atmosphere. Nevertheless, I reply that it is with me, at least, a work and labour of love; nor can I believe, that any one who has for years studied Wordsworth and loved him, and year by year felt his appreciation and comprehension of Wordsworth grow, and has during all those years endeavoured to make Wordsworth's principles the guiding principles of his own inner life-I cannot believe that such a man can have nothing to say which it can be desirable should be heard by his fellow men.
There is another class, however, to whom such
*This lecture was never delivered, owing to Mr. Robertson's ill-health.
a subject will seem superfluous; for the general opinion about Wordsworth is exceedingly superficial. To the mass of the public all that is known of Wordsworth is a conception something like this: They have heard of an old man who lived somewhere in the Lake districts, who raved considerably of Lake scenery, who wrote a large number of small poems, all of them innocent, many of them puerile and much laughed at, at the time they appeared, by clever men; that they were lashed in the reviews, and annihilated by Lord Byron, as, for instance, in those well-known lines
"A drowsy, frowsy poem, called the Excursion,
and that he was guilty of a vast mass of other verses, all exceedingly innocent, and at the same time exceedingly dull and heavy. It is this class of persons whom I ask on the present occasion to listen quietly to the first subject I have to bring before them the qualifications necessary for appreciating poetry in general and Wordsworth's poetry in particular.
Now, the first qualification I shall speak of as necessary for appreciating poetry is unworldliness. Let us understand the term employed. By worldliness, I mean entanglement in the temporal and visible. It is the spirit of worldliness which makes a man love show, splendour, rank, title, and sensual