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Wanderer is a man of humble birth, whose youth was spent in quiet communion with the elemental powers. He is a poet without the gift of expression. He needs but a few books: Milton and the Bible are sufficient. The Spirit that prompts the Savoyard to quit his naked rocks, the Swiss to leave his narrow vales, impels “his restless mind to look abroad with hope.” To see the world and gain a competence he turns peddler. It is easy to understand how the wits of the old school of poetry would find infinite cause for jest in the unromantic peddler. The Solitary was born in a higher station in life, but has not the peace of God within his heart as has the Wanderer. The loss of his wife and children, the shattering of his dreams for the regeneration of society through the apparently miserable ending of the French Revolution, had broken his spirit. “To raise his downcast spirit, to infuse faith and hope and moral wisdom into his heart, is the effort of the Wanderer.” To show that hope and faith could be instilled into the hopeless and faithless was Wordsworth's intention when he planned The Recluse.
Sonnets. — Wordsworth was a prolific writer of sonnets, about 450 appearing in his published works. He wrote sonnet sequences on such unpromising topics as Punishment of Death, and three series, running up to 132, called Ecclesiastical Sonnets. Of course, there is great inequality among these hundreds, many of them having the stamp of mediocrity, but there are at least a half-dozen that rank with the best sonnets in the language, comparing very favorably with the best of Shakspere, Milton, and Keats. Among the best are the two which follow:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
The few lines of this great poem are a compendium of Wordsworth's philosophy; it is his vehement protest against that "getting and spending” which is the bane of the world. Written more than a hundred years ago, it carries its message to a generation needing more than ever this warning from a prophet of Nature.
Another magnificent sonnet is:
“Earth has not anything to show more fair :
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
This sonnet was written on the roof of a coach when Wordsworth was on his way to France in 1802. Dorothy writes in her Journal:
“We left London on Saturday morning at half past five or six, the 30th [an error, the 31st] of July. We mounted the Dover coach at Charing Cross. It was a beautiful morning. The city, St. Paul's, with the river, and a multitude of little boats, made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not over-hung by their cloud of smoke, and they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly, with such a fierce light, that there was something like the purity of one of nature's own grand spectacles.”
Bagehot thinks this sonnet the perfection of purity in style.
“Instances of barer styles than this may easily be found, instances of colder style — few better instances of purer style. . . . To Wordsworth has been vouchsafed the last grace of the self-denying artist - you think neither of him nor of his style, but you cannot help thinking of - you must recall — the exact phrase, the very sentiment he wished.”
Famous Short Poems. — Among the best known shorter poems are the famous Ode on Intimations of Immortality, Resolution and Independence, Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey, She Was a Phantom of Delight, and I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.
Many consider the Ode on Intimations of Immortality his greatest work, Emerson saying that this ode “is the highwater mark which the intellect has reached in this age.” The poem was published in 1807. “Two years at least,” Wordsworth says, "passed between the writing of the first four stanzas and the remaining part.” He says he does not wish to teach the doctrine of a pre-natal state. “It is far too shadowy a notion to be recommended to faith, as more than an element in our instincts of immortality.” The poet does not try to prove the unprovable, but attempts to give a record of his feelings. “We feel that we are greater than we know," is the thought of this dreamer who
“looks back with passionate regret to the lost radiance of his childhood.
The poem is a product of that majestic kind of metaphysical imagination which transcends space and time, and makes
“. Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal silence.'”
Resolution and Independence is one of the most inspiring of all his poems. It is an intimate revelation of the man himself, a record of an actual experience. We are apt to think of Wordsworth as calmly and hopefully pursuing the poetic path without a doubt as to his future. In this poem we have a picture of a poet dejected and uncertain as he considers his life work. Shall he be a poet or turn to the prosaic task of earning a living? In this mood he sees the lonely old leech-gatherer persevering in his humble task
“I could have laughed myself to scorn to find
Essays on Wordsworth are to be found in:
Morley's Introduction to the Globe Edition of Wordworth's poems. Magazines:
The Secret of Wordsworth. TORREY. Atl., vol. 92, p. 409.
EN have always been interested in stories, and in the story
teller. Scott is one of the greatest story-tellers in the English language; he is also a poet of no mean order. His life was so prosperous for many years, his success so unprecedented in the history of letters, that tragic is not the first word that comes to the mind in thinking of the career of Scott, and yet his career, so admirable in many respects, is a striking illustration of that dark spirit of perversity that broods in irony over the hopes of man. Burns's life is the tragedy of weakness, Scott's is the tragedy of strength. Shelley failed because while keeping his head in the clouds, he could not guide his feet through earth; seeing visions of a new heaven, he lost his sense of the real world. Scott used all the magnificent resources of a rich endowment of genius to establish a baronial estate to be forever associated with the name of Scott - and then died in debt, although his wizard's art had earned, it is estimated, over £140,000. Fifteen years after his death, when his royalties had paid off his debt, all his children, for whom he had labored, and his oldest grandchild were dead. What he sought for he failed to attain, but Time, as if to compensate for the cruelty of Fate, has exalted his name to the pinnacle of fame, for among the great benefactors of the human race must be written the name of Sir Walter Scott.
Ancestry. - Walter Scott, like Shakspere, Burns, Carlyle, Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Browning - in fact, like most names in English literature - does not suggest a literary ancestry, nor could this have been a matter of concern to Scott, who cared more to be known as the founder of a prosperous Scotch family than as a popular author. In an autobiography written in 1808 he tells us, "My birth was neither distinguished nor sordid. According to the prejudices of my country, it was esteemed