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tionality, and for the steady and successful pursuit of its own best good. The life of an English schoolboy of the upper and middle classes in Wordsworth's time was a very hard one; and when we remember what Coleridge went through at Christ's Hospital, and Shelley,* years later, at Brentford and Eton, it seems indeed fortunate that the genius of Wordsworth was not exposed to influences it would hardly have survived.
Wordsworth's school days, although very uneventful, were in many ways the most important season of his life. It was the seed-time of his poetic manhood. In the first and second books of the Prelude we can still see much of it, and trace how much of what is most beautiful in his after poems is woven from these earlier threads.
Although the death of his father, when Wordsworth was fourteen, had left the family straitened for money, he was nevertheless sent in his eighteenth year (1787) from Hawkshead to St. John's, Cambridge. His knowledge both of Latin and mathematics was above the average, but he never gave serious thought to scholastic
The change from Cumberland mountains to Cambridge flats, from rustic solitude to the social life of a University, Wordsworth found to be not without its pleasures. He had never, even in boyhood, been reserved or hypochondriacal, and now mixed freely with other men. Beside “the pleasant mill of Trumpington,” the haunt of the ancient poet, he read his favourites, Chaucer and Spenser. His long vacations he spent in visits to friends, and in walks in Wales and on the Continent. It was on a visit about this time that he first met his cousin, Mary Hutchinson, his future wife ; and his last “ Long” was spent in a three months' walk through Switzerland and Italy, which had the effect of deepening his interest in modern politics. This, which may be called the second
* Cf. the Introduction to the Revolt of Islam.
epoch in Wordsworth's life, had quickly slipped away. In the January of 1789 he took a common degree, and left Cambridge for London.
To his friends his university life had been disappointing. It had done nothing to raise either his name or fortunes. To himself it had brought widened human sympathies, healthy social instincts, and a manly interest in public events.
And rarely has the political world been so well worth watching as at this time. The independence of the United States had been recognized in 1784, and the Republic was in the hopeful flush of infancy. The spirit of republicanism was strong in the Netherlands, and the Revolution imminent in France. In England the talents of Pitt, Fox, Sheridan, and Burke were in their full splendour; and the year in which Wordsworth left Cambridge is memorable for the impeachment of Warren Hastings for misgovernment in India.
On leaving Cambridge, Wordsworth spent some time in London. His future lay in uncertainty ; and although confident in the possession of unusual powers, he felt the difficulty of even earning a living. Any immediate decision was, however, postponed to another Continental tour.
In 1791 we find him once more abroad-at Paris, at Orleans, at Blois. France was in a ferment, and Wordsworth threw himself with all his soul into the passionate longing for political freedom which was the golden dream of the time. The dawn of the French Revolution was hailed with enthusiasm by almost all the more ardent and sensitive minds.
“When France in wrath her giant limbs upreared,
And with that oath which smote air, earth, and sea,
* S. T. Coleridge.
His own feelings Wordsworth has described in a poem entitled The French Revolution, as it appeared to Enthusiasts at its commencement.
“Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth
Were roused, and lively natu es rapt away.” In 1792 he was again in Paris. The September massacre had taken place some weeks, and the city was not so safe a dwelling-place as in the preceding year, which had witnessed the funeral of Mirabeau,“ the people's friend,” the Serment Civique, and the royal arrest at Varennes. More formidable matters were on foot than the “insurrection of women" of 1789, and towards the close of the year Wordsworth was recalled by his friends from his dangerous position.
The failure of the hopes of social regeneration with which he had greeted the fall of the Bastille was to Wordsworth the deepest sorrow he had ever known. It filled him with shame, almost with despair. He has left in the history of the “ Solitary” a picture of his own hopes and disappointment
Liberty, I worshipped thee, and found thee but a shade." * Nor was he alone in these bitter feelings. They were fully shared by many Englishmen, among whom we may mention Robert Southey and S. T. Coleridge, both destined to be his friends for life.
On his return to England Wordsworth reached the real crisis of his life. He was exposed to a double danger, either of letting his poetic nature be smothered in attempts to solve social and philosophical problems, or, secondly, of being forced by the urgency of what Coleridge called “the bread and cheese question," to sell himself to
Cf. Excursion, bk. ii. I. 692-763.
drudgery. From the first of these dangers he was rescued by the wise sympathy of his sister Dorothy, who soon led him back to his own world of natural beauty, to which his late experience added depths of human feeling he might not else have known. From the second peril he was delivered by a timely legacy of £900, which made unnecessary the, to him fatal, resolution of joining the staff of a newspaper.
Thus in 1795 we find Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy settled at Racedown, a retired village in Dorsetshire. In appearance he was a well-made man, of more than average height, with light hair, large blue eyes, and regular features. His sister was a most fitting companion for him-beautiful, strong, enthusiastic, and original. He could now follow out his purpose early made, and never for long relinquished, of giving his whole life to the expression of his poetic genius: and the task he had set himself was much lightened by his noble friendships.
Never has man been richer in the sympathy of others than Wordsworth, a sympathy without which he could scarcely have given voice to the full passion of his quiet and peculiar beauty. Of his sister we have already spoken: he has himself told how close a sympathy bound them together ;* but at Racedown the brother and sister made also their first acquaintance with Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Wordsworth's junior by two years, he had already passed through many adventures : he had been educated at Christ's Hospital with Lamb and Middleton, and sent thence to Cambridge, had since been a private in the Dragoons and a dissenting preacher, and was to be known to the world as a poet, philosopher, and critic. Wordsworth, who remained in closest friendship with him for life, describes him as the “ rapt one of the Godlike forehead ;” and it was to be near him that the Wordsworths, after two years, left Racedown for Alfoxden, about three miles from Nether Stowey, in Somersetshire, where Coleridge was living.
* Where'er my footsteps turned Her voice was like a hidden bird that sang, The thought of her was like a flash of light Or an unseen companionship,-a breath Of fragrance independent of the wind.
Meanwhile Wordsworth had not been idle. He had already, in 1793, published the Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches; but they had gained little attention. He now, in 1798, the year after the removal to Somersetshire, brought out his first volume of Lyrical Ballıds. It appeared with a preface on the nature and right expression of poetry, in which the author vindicates the simplicity of his language and the homeliness of his subjects. The new proposition which he attempts to establish, that the language of poetry does not differ in its essentials from that of prose, is paradoxical and unsound; but though in this he was led into exaggeration, it was a natural reaction from the artificial school of Dryden and Pope.
There is a story that Wordsworth and Coleridge, from their eccentric habits and known revolutionary views, came under suspicion of treason : certain it is that in 1798 they left Somersetshire for Germany, and spent the winter at Goslar. Among the poems written during the last summer at Alfoxden are the Lines written near Tintern, perhaps the most beautiful that Wordsworth ever wrote. Coleridge left Goslar for Göttingen to learn German; but the three friends met again later in the year in Westmoreland, and the Wordsworths first saw their future home.
In the winter of the last year of the century, the brother and sister took a house at the town end of Grassinere ; and two years later an increase of income resulted in the marriage of the poet with his cousin, Mary Hutchinson