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It is one of the peculiarities of little minds to affect a contempt of the great, and to dignify by their ill-nature what they have not the judgment to appreciate. They never seem to look at things as other men, or judge them by the same principles; they are in fact narrowed down by some peculiarity of mental construction, so that what is good or great in the eyes of the generous, is in their view deficient and unworthy. Altogether innocent of every thing like merit themselves, and at the same time not altogether unsuspicious of their own inferiority, they would drag others down to their own level; and thus by degrading the standard, they would contrive to have none eventually, in order that the worthy and degenerate might stand on the same soundation.
Indeed, is a man of merit would get a proper estimate of his own abilities, he cannot do it better than by gathering together the quantity of ridicule heaped upon him, and considering it a testimony of his excellence. He is assured that men of sense never resort to this mockery, that is, supposing him to have any thing like respectable claims to intellect, while he is equally assured that the opposite class always do, so that he has only to bear in mind the principles which govern them, and he may never tremble for his reputation, until they begin to praise. It has always been the sate of genius to be met and misunderstood, to be always obliged to bear up against a host of shallow opposers, to encounter just about so much hatred and so much envy, and find every deviation from the beaten track denounced as presumption, until by the omnipotent energy of intellect alone, acknowledgments have been forcibly obtained of supe
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riority and a consequent right to dictate. Thus Dante, for example, for having followed the dictates of his own genius, and by that means done more for the literature of his country than all those who preceded him, was hooted at by the ignorant and contemned by the vulgar to the end of his life, thus making his great name both the glory and disgrace of Italy. Thus Milton, for having turned away indignant from the false glare and insipid tawdriness of the court of Charles and his hopeful compeers, and for having dared to list his undimmed eye heavenward and drink in the music which came rushing over him from the golden gates of Paradise, was disgraced and contemned and styled “an old school-master,’ the poor merit only being allowed him of having written a very long and very dull m. And thus Wordsworth, in our times, for having freed himself from the false taste that shackles English poetry, and arrogated to himself the high honor of bringing back the ease, the virtue, the naturalness of former times; for having dared to frown in simple dignity on the meretricious works of his contemporaries, and take the reins from such hands as Moore and Byron, those murderers of genuine sentiment and panders of corruption, has been met in many instances, and by minds of the first stamp, with a coarse and daring scorn, a bitterness little short of personal hatred, and a satire not much above scurrility. He has been denounced as the founder of a new school of poetry disgraceful to literature, as giving sanction to principles at once puny and absurd, as introducing a theory to prostrate the noble art of poetry to the level of the meanest, and thus foist upon the sacred mount where Homer, Shakspeare, and Tasso sit enthroned, the merest witlings of insignificance. How far these charges are entitled to credence, and how far they can be supported by an appeal to facts, it is our purpose here to examine; and if we do not sadly miscalculate our abilities, and the exceeding freedom with which even dullness might perform the task, we shall hope to set Mr. Wordsworth in his true light, and thus vindicate from these soul aspersions, one of the first intellects of the age. There is not a more requisite qualification, even at the present day, when assertions of Wordsworth's claims to preeminence are becoming in some measure fashionable, and the leading presses of Europe are beginning to learn justice; when the benign influence of his great mind is beginning to be felt in the literary atmosphere, and the froth and scum of the powerful trash and prostituted genius of the age are beginning to separate from the mass, and show how little of what first astonished us is worthy of admiration; when society is beginning to rouse itself from that moral paralysis, into which such minds as Byron have thrown it, and a more invigorating pulse is beginning to be felt in the very heart of the republic of letters; I say, even at this time, there is not a more necessary requisite, than a large stock of charity. There is need of charity for the notes of the smaller magpies on the mount of criticism, or like the poor hen-pecked figurante in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, we shall think all the world crazy. Society is still filled with these retailers of old opinions, and the periodical press with unforgotten calumnies; the change has not yet become thorough, the conviction has not been radical, the renovation complete; it still confines itself to the presiding spirits of literature, the effect not yet having worked its way downward to the common mind. Nothing is more common than to hear theories attributed to Wordsworth, of which he never had a conception, and faults saddled upon him of which he is entirely innocent, as much so as these critics are of any thing like a capacity to comprehend him; nothing is more common than to hear rules and principles laid down, principles which Wordsworth entirely disowns, and supported by all the arrogance of genuine ignorance; nothing is more common, than to meet a man charged to the very throat with abuse and bitterness, who upon the questioning can no more give you one of the peculiarities of Wordsworth's style or character, than he could of one of the authors before the deluge; add to this the fact, that such numbers have committed themselves in opposing him, and the common pride of the heart preventing an acknowledgment; also, the number whose minds are preoccupied by the writings of some other author; also, that it is the interest of many to hold these opinions, as for instance with editors and magazine writers, who must necessarily pamper the appetite they live by ; also, that there is a large class of minds in this world who can see no good in any thing; men who are entirely destitute of the faculty to admire, who both by nature and habit are better fitted to magnify the spots on the sun than the sun itself; men entirely destitute of generous sympathy, who measure works by the scarcity of errors rather than the prevalence of beauties; men in idea only, walking skeletons of cold blooded captiousness, who snarl upon principle and bite for amusement; men who advance to the work of purifying literature, as the anatomist approaches with knife and scalpel to mangle and murder, the veriest leeches in the republic of letters, sucking from it its life blood; men who have no more notion of the spirit of a language than the vampire they emulate, who talk by method and put words together by dictionaries; and who could they carry their rules out and have our literature shaped by it, would leave us nothing but a soulless jargon of elegant imbecility; it would be like the face of the dead, conforming indeed in outline to the rules of beauty, without the life-giving power of its intelligence. But it has been Wordsworth's misfortune also to suffer by means of his friends as well as his enemies. The same fascination which is seen to hold the followers of Coleridge, when imbued with the spirit of his wonderful yet dangerous philosophy, is as manifest in those of Wordsworth. They look up to him with a kind of veneration, which none can know but those who thoroughly understand him, and a kind of transfusion of the poet's thoughts feelings and sympathies into their own breasts, makes every attack on him seem an attack on themselves. There is a tenderness in them in behalf of his reputation, so extremely sensitive as often to become laughable; and it cannot be denied that sometimes they are led thereby, into much extravagance. Such is the place he holds in their hearts, that every charge made against any of his peculiarities, is not a charge in their view preferred against an author, and pertaining therefore to the safety of literature, but as one made against an absent friend and teacher, and they therefore demand for him the same immunities. They enter upon a defense of him, with the predilection that he must be right, and they are as a consequent supplied with negatives to every accusation, and are not always so willing to be candid as propriety demands. Of course, however advantageous they may be in some respects, and however flattering it must be to the personal pride of the poet, friends of this kind are not in all cases prepared to advance his reputation. A man of true genius is never injured by just and honorable criticism; on the contrary he is benefited, for the discussion must always elicit his excellence; and for them to suppose that Wordsworth is altogether above criticism, is at once advancing a claim which is not true in fact, and which if it were, it is not always politic to urge. Enemies are never so bitter as when drawn up in fight, and the opposers of Wordsworth would be more willing to allow him decided merit, would his friends only forego certain claims which are inconsiderable, besides being not well sounded. It is the forgetfulness of this which, more than any thing else, has swelled the cry against him into a thunder-peal, and drawn forth his most indefensible writings; and if his friends could be persuaded of this, and learn to speak of him as a little less superhuman, much opposition would cease. It is beyond dispute, that some of his poetry is so very modest in the claims it advances to be designated as such, that, to say the least, a man must have all his wits about him to defend it. The incongruity discovered when much, we may say most, of his poetry is compared with his own theory, a theory in many respects objectionable though the model of some of the most transcendantly beautiful verses in the language, is another source of difficulty. The acknowledged inequalities of his blank verse also have not escaped censure; and add to all this, that his thoughts and theories, his manner and method are entirely opposed to the prevailing taste of the day, and we shall easily see that the number of opposers must necessarily be great, and the grounds, they go upon are by no means so contemptible as is supposed. The only wonder is, that there are not more who oppose him; indeed it is astonishing, that with all these difficulties, he should, in the short space of ten or fifteen years, have so far succeeded in bringing back to its former purity, the vitiated taste of the age, and established in the very heart of this corruption, and within