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easy to praise Shakespeare in one short sentence judgment on the value of a work of modern pomore felicitously. And when a foreigner and a etry is the judgment which will, we may be alFrenchman writes thus of Shakespeare, and when most sure, at last prevail generally. Goethe says of Milton, in whom there was so I come back to M. Rénan's praise of glory much to repel Goethe rather than to attract him, from which I started. Yes, real glory is a most that “nothing has been ever done so entirely in serious thing, glory authenticated by the Amthe sense of the Greeks as ‘Samson Agonistes,'” phictyonic Court of final appeal, definitive glory. and that “Milton is in very truth a poet whom we And even for poets and poetry, long and diffmust treat with all respect," then we understand cult as may be the process of arriving at the what constitutes a European recognition of poets right award, the right award comes at last, the and poetry as contradistinguished from a merely definitive glory rests where it is deserved. Every national recognition, and that in favor both of establishment of such a real glory is good and Milton and of Shakespeare the judgment of the wholesome for mankind at large, good and wholehigh court of appeal has finally gone.
some for the nation which produced the poet Or, again, judgment may go the other way. crowned with it. To the poet himself it can Byron has had an immense reputation, not in seldom do harm; for he, poor man, is in his grave, England only, but on the Continent. M. Taine, probably, long before his glory crowns him. in his history of English literature, takes Byron Wordsworth has been in his grave for some as seriously as he takes Shakespeare. Byron is thirty years, and certainly his lovers and admirers the supreme and incomparable expression of the can not flatter themselves that this great and English genius after eight centuries of prepara- steady light of glory as yet shines over him. tion; he is the one single contemporary author He is not fully recognized at home; he is not who has atteint à la cime, “ reached the sum- recognized at all abroad. Yet I firmly believe mit”; “Manfred " is the twin brother of “Faust.” that the poetical performance of Wordsworth is, But then M. Scherer strikes in with his words of after that of Shakespeare and Milton, of which truth and soberness. Remarking that “Byron is all the world now recognizes the worth, unone of our French superstitions,” he points out doubtedly the most considerable in our language how Byron's talent is oratorical rather than po- from the Elizabethan age to the present time. etical ; he points out how to high and serious art, Chaucer is anterior; and on other grounds, too, art impersonal and disinterested, Byron never he can not well be brought into the comparison. could rise; and how the man in Byron, finally, is But taking the roll of our chief poetical names, even less sincere than the poet. And by this we besides Shakespeare and Milton, from the age of may perceive that we have not in Byron what we Elizabeth downward, and going through ithave in Milton and Shakespeare-a poetical repu- Spenser, Dryden, Pope, Gray, Goldsmith, Cowtation which time and the authentic judgment of per, Burns, Coleridge, Campbell, Moore, Byron, mankind will certainly accept and consecrate. Shelley, Keats (I mention those only who are
So excellent a writer and critic as M. Rénan dead) — I think it certain that Wordsworth's sees in M. Victor Hugo a “ beloved and illustri- name deserves to stand, and will finally stand ous master, whose voice has throughout our cen- above them all. Several of the poets named have tury struck the hour for us." Of these “ strikings gifts and excellences which Wordsworth has not. of the hour” by the voice of M. Victor Hugo, But, taking the performance of each as a whole, none certainly was more resonant, none was I
say that Wordsworth seems to me to have left hailed with more passionate applause by his a body of poetical work superior in power, in infriends than “Hernani.” It is called for again, terest, in the qualities which give enduring freshmade to strike over again; we have the privilege ness, to that which any one of the others has of hearing it strike in London. And still there is left. no lack of applause to this work of a talent “com- But this is not enough to say. I think it cerbining,” says Théophile Gautier, “ the qualities of tain, further, that if we take the chief poetical Corneille and of Shakespeare.” But I open by names of the Continent since the death of Mochance a little volume, the conversations of Goethelière, and, omitting Goethe, confront the remainwith the Chancellor von Müller. There I come ing names with that of Wordsworth, the result upon this short sentence: “Goethe said, “Her- is the same. Let us take Klopstock, Lessing, nani' was an absurd composition.” Hernani sei Schiller, Uhland, Rückert, and Heine for Gereine absurde Composition. So speaks this great many; Filicaia, Alfieri, Manzoni, and Leopardi foreign witness; a German, certainly, but a Ger- for Italy; Voltaire, André Chenier, Béranger, Laman favorable to French literature, and to France, martine, Musset, M. Victor Hugo (he has been “to which,” said he, “I owe so much of my cul- so long celebrated that although he still lives I ture"! So speaks Goethe, the critic who, above may be permitted to name him) for France. all others, may count as European, and whose Several of these, again, have evidently gifts and
excellences to which Wordsworth can make no exaggeration to say that, within one single decade pretension. But in real poetical achievement it of those years, between 1798 and 1808, almost seems to me indubitable that to Wordsworth, all his really first-rate work was produced. A here again, belongs the palm. It seems to me mass of inferior work remains—work done bethat Wordsworth has left behind him a body of fore and after this golden prime, imbedding the poetical work which wears, and will wear, better first-rate work and clogging it, obstructing our on the whole than the performance of any one of approach to it, chilling the high-wrought mood these personages, so far more brilliant and cele- with which we leave it. To be recognized far brated, most of them, than the homely poet of and wide as a great poet, to be possible and reRydal. Wordsworth's performance in poetry is ceivable as a classic, Wordsworth needs to be on the whole, in power, in interest, in the quali- relieved of a great deal of the poetical baggage ties which give enduring freshness, superior to which now encumbers him. To administer this theirs.
relief is indispensable, unless he is to continue to This is a high claim to make for Words- be a poet for the few only—a poet valued far beworth; but if it is a just claim, if Wordsworth's low his real worth by the world. place, among the poets who have appeared in the There is another thing. Wordsworth classilast two or three centuries, is after Shakespeare, fied his poems not according to any commonly Molière, Milton, Goethe, indeed, but before all received plan of arrangement, but according to the rest, then in time Wordsworth will have his a scheme of mental physiology. He has poems due. We shall recognize him in his place, as we of the fancy, poems of the imagination, poems recognize Shakespeare and Milton; and not only of sentiment and reflection, and so on. His catewe ourselves shall recognize him, but he will be gories are ingenious but far-fetched, and the rerecognized by Europe also. Meanwhile, those sult of his employment of them is unsatisfactory. who recognize him already may do well, perhaps, Poems are separated one from another which to ask themselves whether there are not in the possess a kinship of subject or of treatment far case of Wordsworth certain special obstacles more vital and deep than the supposed unity of which hinder or delay his due recognition by mental origin which was Wordsworth's reason others, and whether these obstacles are not in for joining them with others. some measure removable.
The tact of the Greeks in matters of this kind “The Excursion” and “The Prelude,” his was infallible. We may rely upon it that we poems of greatest bulk, are by no means Words- shall not improve upon the classification adopted worth's best work. His best work is in his by the Greeks for kinds of poetry; that their shorter pieces, and many indeed are there of categories of epic, dramatic, lyric, and so forth, these which are of first-rate excellence. But in have a natural propriety, and should be adhered his seven volumes the pieces of high merit are to. It may sometimes seem doubtful to which mingled with a mass of pieces very inferior to of two categories a poem belongs—whether this them—so inferior to them that it seems wonder- or that poem is to be called, for instance, narraful how the same poet should have produced tive or lyric, lyric or elegiac. But there is to be both. Shakespeare frequently has lines and pas- found in every good poem a strain, a predominant sages in a strain quite false, and which are en- note, which determines the poem as belonging tirely unworthy of him. But one can imagine to one of these kinds rather than the other; and his smiling if one could meet him in the Elysian here is the best proof of the value of the classiFields and tell him so—smiling and replying that fication and of the advantage of adhering to it. he knew it perfectly well himself, and what did Wordsworth's poems will never produce their it matter? But with Wordsworth the case is due effect until they are freed from their present different. Work altogether inferior, work quite artificial arrangement and grouped more natuuninspired, flat and dull, is produced by him with rally. evident unconsciousness of its defects, and he Naturally grouped and disengaged, moreover, presents it to us with the same faith and serious- from the quantity of inferior work which now ness as his best work. Now, a drama or an epic obscures them, the best poems of Wordsworth, I fills the mind, and one does not look beyond it; hear many people say, would indeed stand out in but, in a collection of short pieces, the impression great beauty, but they would prove to be very made by one piece requires to be continued and few in number, scarcely more than half a dozen. sustained by the piece following. In reading I maintain, on the other hand, that what strikes Wordsworth, the impression made by one of his me with admiration, what establishes, in my fine pieces is constantly dulled and spoiled by a opinion, Wordsworth's superiority, is the great very inferior piece coming after it.
and ample body of powerful work which remains Wordsworth composed verses during a space of him after all his inferior work has been cleared of some sixty years; and it is not much of an away. He gives us so much to rest upon, so
much which communicates his spirit and engages remarked that “no nation has treated in poetry ours !
moral ideas with more energy and depth than This is of very great importance. If it were the English nation.” And he adds, "There, it a comparison of single pieces, or of three or four seems to me, is the great merit of the English pieces, by each poet, I do not say that Words- poets.” Voltaire does not mean, by “ treating in worth would stand decisively above Gray, or poetry moral ideas," the composing moral and Burns, or Keats, or Manzoni, or Heine. It is in didactic poems—that brings us but a very little his ampler body of powerful work that I find his way in poetry. He means just the same thing as superiority. His good work, his work which was meant when I spoke above of “the noble counts, is not all of it, of course, of equal value. and profound application of ideas to life"; and Some kinds of poetry are in themselves lower he means the application of these ideas under kinds than others. The ballad kind is a lower the conditions fixed for us by the laws of poetic kind; the didactic kind, still more, is a lower beauty and poetic truth. If it is said that to call kind. Poetry of this latter sort counts, too, some- these ideas moral ideas is to introduce a strong times by its biographical interest partly, not by and injurious limitation, I answer that it is to do its poetical interest, pure and simple; but then nothing of the kind, because moral ideas are this can only be when the poet producing it has really so main a part of human life. The questhe power and importance of Wordsworth—a tion, how to live, is itself a moral idea ; and it is power and importance which he assuredly did the question which most interests every man, and not establish by such didactic poetry alone. Al with which, in some way or other, he is perpetutogether it is, I say, by the great body of power- ally occupied. A large sense is of course to be ful and significant work which remains to him, given to the term moral. Whatever bears upon after every reduction and deduction has been the question, “how to live," comes under it. made, that Wordsworth's superiority is proved. To exhibit this body of Wordsworth's best
“Nor love thy life, nor hate; but, what thou liv'st, work, to clear away obstructions from around it,
Live well ; how long or short, permit to Heaven." and to let it speak for itself, is what every lover In those fine lines, Milton utters, as every one at of Wordsworth should desire. Until this has been done, Wordsworth, whom we, to whom he when Keats consoles the forward-bending lover
once perceives, a moral idea. Yes, but so too, is dear, all of us know and feel to be so great a poet, has not had a fair chance before the world. sented in immortal relief by the sculptor's hand
on the Grecian Urn, the lover arrested and preWhen once it has been done, he will make his before he can kiss, with the line way best not by our advocacy of him, but by his own worth and power. We may safely leave him " For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair' to make his way thus, we who believe that superior worth and power in poetry find in man- he utters a moral idea. When Shakspeare says kind a sense responsive to it and disposed at last that “we are such stuff as dreams are made of, to recognize it. Yet at the outset, before he has and our little life is rounded with a sleep,” he been duly known and recognized, we may do utters a moral idea. Wordsworth a service, perhaps, by indicating in Voltaire was right in thinking that the enerwhat his superior power and worth will be found getic and profound treatment of moral ideas, in to consist, and in what they will not.
this large sense, is what distinguishes the English Long ago, in speaking of Homer, I said that poetry. He sincerely meant praise, not dispraise the noble and profound application of ideas to
or hint of limitation ; and they err who suppose life is the most essential part of poetic greatness. that poetic limitation is a necessary consequence I said that a great poet receives his distinctive of the fact, the fact being granted as Voltaire character of superiority from his application, states it. If what distinguishes the greatest poets under the conditions immutably fixed by the laws is their powerful and profound application of of poetic beauty and poetic truth, from his appli- ideas to life, which surely no good critic will deny, cation, I say, to his subject, whatever it may be, then to prefix to the word ideas here the term of the ideas
moral makes hardly any difference, because hu
man life itself is in so preponderating a degree "On man, on nature, and on human life,"
moral. which he has acquired for himself. The line It is important, therefore, to hold fast to this: quoted is Wordsworth's own; and his superior- that poetry is at bottom a criticism of life; that ity arises from his powerful use, in his best pieces, the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and his powerful application to his subject, of ideas beautiful application of ideas to life-to the queson man, on nature, and on human life.” tion, How to live. Morals are often treated in a
Voltaire, with his signal acuteness, most truly narrow and false fashion, they are bound up with
systems of thought and belief which have had “Of truth, of grandeur, beauty, love, and hope,
Of blessed consolations in distress,
Of moral strength and intellectual power, in a poetry of revolt against them; in a poetry
Of joy in widest commonalty spread," which might take for its motto Omar Kheyam's ivords, “ Let us make up in the tavern for the then we have a poet intent on “ the best and mastime which we have wasted in the mosque.”. Or we say, for brevity's sake, that he deals with
ter thing,” and who prosecutes his journey home. we find attractions in a poetry indifferent to them, life
, because he deals with that in which life in a poetry where the contents may be what they really consists. This is what Voltaire means to will, but where the form is studied and exquisite. We delude ourselves in either case ; and the best what is really life. But always it is the mark of
praise in the English poets—this dealing with cure for our delusion is to let our minds rest upon the greatest poets that they deal with it; and to that great and inexhaustible word life, until we learn to enter into its meaning. A poetry of re. dealing with it is only another way of saying,
say that the English poets are remarkable for volt against moral ideas is a poetry of revolt what is true, that in poetry the English genius against life; a poetry of indifference toward
has especially shown its power. moral ideas is a poetry of indifference toward
Wordsworth deals with it, and his greatness life.
. Epictetus had a happy figure for things like lies in his dealing with it so powerfully. I have the play of the senses, or literary form and finish, of whom he, in my opinion, deserves to be placed. or argumentative ingenuity, in comparison with He is to be placed above poets like Voltaire, Dry" the best and master thing” for us, as he called den, Pope, Lessing, Schiller, because these famous it, the concern how to live. Some people were
personages, with a thousand gifts and merits, afraid of them, he said, or they disliked and undervalued them. Such people were wrong; they never, or scarcely ever, attain the distinctive
accent and utterance of the high and genuine were unthankful or cowardly. But the things
“Quique pii vates et Phæbo digna locuti,”
ing. Who denies that they are taking ? but is informed by ideas which “fall spontaneously as places of passage, as inns. And when I say into a scientific system of thought.” But we this, you suppose me to be attacking the care for must be on our guard against the Wordsworthstyle, the care for argument. I am not; I attack ians, if we want to secure for Wordsworth his the resting in them, the not looking to the end due rank as a poet. The Wordsworthians are which is beyond them.”
apt to praise him for the wrong things, and to Now, when we come across a poet like Théo- lay far too much stress upon what they call hiş phile Gautier, we have a poet who has taken up philosophy. His poetry is the reality, his philosohis abode at an inn, and never got further. There phy the illusion. Perhaps we shall one day learn may be inducements to this or that one of us, at to make this proposition more general, and to this or that moment, to find delight in him, to say, Poetry is the reality, philosophy the illusion. cleave to him; but, after all, we do not change But in Wordsworth's case, at any rate, we can the truth about him—we only stay ourselves in not do him justice until we dismiss his philosohis inn along with him. And when we come phy. across a poet like Wordsworth, who sings
“The Excursion " abounds with philosophy,
and therefore “ The Excursion” is to the Words- leged systematic philosophy of Wordsworth, what worthian what it never can be to the disinterested Thucydides says of the early achievements of the lover of poetry—a satisfactory work. “Duty ex- Greek race: It is impossible to speak with cerists,” says Wordsworth, in “The Excursion"; tainty of what is so remote; but, from all that we and then he proceeds thus:
can really investigate, I should say that they were
no very great things.”
Finally, the “scientific system of thought" in
Wordsworth gives us at last such poetry as this,
which the devout Wordsworthian accepts: Whose kingdom is, where time and space are not.”
"O for the coming of that glorious time And the Wordsworthian is delighted, and thinks
When, prizing knowledge as her noblest wealth that here is a sweet union of philosophy and
And best protection, this imperial realm, poetry. But the disinterested lover of poetry While she exacts allegiance, shall admit will feel that the lines carry us really not a step An obligation, on her part, to teach further than the proposition which they would Them who are born to serve her and obey; interpret; that they are a tissue of elevated but Binding herself by statute to secure abstract verbiage, alien to the very nature of
For all the children whom her soil maintains poetry.
The rudiments of letters, and inform Or let us come direct to the center of the The mind with moral and religious truth!” philosophy, as “an ethical system as distinctive Wordsworth calls Voltaire dull, and surely the and capable of systematical exposition as Bishop production of these un-Voltairean lines must have Butler's":
been imposed on him as a judgment ! One can “.... One adequate support
hear them being quoted at a Social Science ConFor the calamities of mortal life
gress; one can call up the whole scene.
A great Exists, one only; an assured belief
room in one of our dismal provincial towns; That the procession of our fate, howe'er dusty air and jaded afternoon daylight; benches Sad or disturbed, is ordered by a Being full of men with bald heads and women in spectaOf infinite benevolence and power ;
cles; an orator lifting up his face from a manuWhose everlasting purposes embrace
script written within and without, to declaim All accidents, converting them to good.” these lines of Wordsworth; and, in the soul of That is doctrine such as we hear in church, any poor child of nature who may have wantoo, religious and philosophic doctrine; and the dered in thither, an unutterable sense of lamenWordsworthian loves passages of such doctrine,
tation, and mourning, and woe! and brings them forward in proof of his poet's these bold, bad men,” the haunters of Social
“But turn we," as Wordsworth says, “from excellence. But, however true the doctrine may
And let us be on our be, it has, as here presented, none of the characters of poetic truth, the kind of truth which we
guard, too, against the exhibitors and extollers require from a poet, and in which Wordsworth of a "scientific system of thought" in Wordsis really strong
worth's poetry. The poetry will never be seen Even the “intimations” of the famous Ode, aright while they thus exhibit it. The cause of those corner-stones of the supposed philosophic
its greatness is simple and may be told quite system of Wordsworth—the idea of the high in- simply. It is great because of the extraordinary stincts and affections coming out in childhood, power with which Wordsworth feels the joy oftestifying of a divine home recently left, and fad- fered to us in nature, the joy offered to us in the ing away as our life proceeds—this idea, of un
simple elementary affections and duties; and deniable beauty as a play of fancy, has itself not because of the extraordinary power with which, the character of poetic truth of the best kind; it in case after case, he shows us this joy, and renhas no real solidity. The instinct of delight in ders it so as to make us share it. Nature and her beauty had no doubt extraordi
The source of joy from which he thus draws nary strength in Wordsworth himself as a child. is the truest and most unfailing source of joy ac
cessible to man.
It is also accessible universally. But to say that universally this instinct is mighty in childhood, and tends to die away afterward, is Wordsworth brings us word, therefore, accordto say what is extremely doubtful. In many ing to his own strong and characteristic line, he people, perhaps with the majority of educated brings us word persons, the love of nature is nearly impercepti
“Of joy in widest commonalty spread." ble at ten years old, but strong and operative at thirty. In general we may say of these high in- Here is an immense advantage for a poet. stincts of early childhood, the base of the al- Wordsworth tells of what all seek, and tells of