Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

ing the young men of our country in the laws, and leading them to apprehend and revere the principles of their magnificent language. But in Wordsworth is the English tongue seen almost in its peffection; its powers of delicate expression, its flexible idioms, its vast compass, the rich variety of its rhythms, being all displayed in the attractive garb of verse, and yet with a most rigorous conformity to the laws of its own syntax.”* This high tribute will bear the test of close study; and, let me add, that this admirable command of the language is the reward of that dutiful culture which is a characteristic of the poet. r

In the early part of this lecture, I had occasion to speak of those miserable poetic sophistries which tempted men and women to think that there is magnanimity in the littlenesses of a morbid pride, and poetic beauty in dreary moodiness. It was Wordsworth’s function, with his manly wisdom, with the true feeling of his full-beating heart, and with the further-reaching vision of his imagination, to sweep these heresies away, showing by his own example that

“A cheerful life is what the Muses love,
- A soaring spirit is their prime delight,”f

and teaching that lesson, which poetry and morals alike should give : .

“If thou be one whose heart the holy forms
Of young imagination have kept pure,
Henceforth be warned; and know that Pride,
IHowe'er disguised in its own majesty,
Is littleness; that he who feels contempt

* The advertisement to “Select Pieces from Wordsworth,” p. 4. f Lines left upon a Seat in a Yew Tree. Works, p. 338.

For any living thing, hath faculties Which he has never used; that thought with him Is in its infancy. The man whose eye Is ever on himself doth look on one, The least of Nature's works—one who might move The wise man to that scorn which wisdom holds |Unlawful ever. Oh be wiser, thou; Instructed that true knowledge leads to love True dignity abides with him alone Who, in the silent hour of inward thought, Cam still suspect, and still revere himself In lowliness of heart.” I have also had occasion to show how morbid and dangerous the love of innocent, inanimate nature may become when it is linked with infidelity—how it will sink down into a vile and weak materialism. By no poet that ever lived has the face of nature, the world of sight and sound, from the planetary motions in the heavens down to the restless shadow of the smallest flower, been so sedulously studied during a long life, and all the utterance his poetry gives of that study is meant to inspire “The glorious habit by which sense is made Subservient still to moral purposes, Auxiliar to divine.” Never, as in the sensuous and irreligious poets, is the material world suffered to encroach upon the spiritual, still less to get dominion over it. So far from any such delusion, observe how in that well-known passage in The Excursion, the sublimity of which is sometimes overlooked in the beauty of the illustration, he proclaims this truth—that the universe, this material universe, is a shell, from which the ear of Faith can hear mysterious murmurings of the Deity. :

* Excursion, book iv. p. 432.

“I have seen
A curious child, who dwelt upon a tract
Of inland ground, applying to his ear
The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell:
To which, in silence hushed, his very soul
Listened intensely;-and his countenance soon
Brightened with joy; for murmurings from within
Were heard, sonorous cadences ! whereby,
To his belief, the monitor expressed
Mysterious union with its native sea.
Joven such a shell the universe itself
Is to the ear of Faith.”

The love of nature thus taught, associated with holy thoughts and reverent emotions, is made perpetual enjoyment, open, too, to every human being: and he who receives the poet's teaching may make the poet's words his own :

“Beauty—a living presence of the earth,
Surpassing the most fair ideal forms
Which craft of delicate spirits hath composed
From earth’s materials—waits upon my steps;
Pitches her tents before me as I move,
An hourly neighbour. Paradise, and groves
Elysian, Fortunate Fields—like those of old
Sought in the Atlantic main—why should they be
A history only of departed things,
Or a mere fiction of what never was 2
For the discerning intellect of man,
When wedded to this goodly universe
In love and holy passion, should find these
A simple produce of the common day.”f

T had reserved for the conclusion of this lecture some notice of the female authors of this century. Ungracious as it will be for such a subject, I feel that I must give it a brevity considerate of your patience. It is a fine cha

# Excursion, book iv. p. 432.
f Preface to the Excursion, p. 394.

racteristic of the literature of our times, that the genius of woman has shared largely and honourably in it. It has been so, from the share which Joanna Baillie had in the restoration of a more truthful tone of poetic feeling, and the delightful fictions with which Maria Edgeworth used to charm our childhood, down to the later company of women who still adorn both prose and poetic literature. There have been instances of female authorship in such modest retirement that the world has not known them well enough. There is much that illustrates the gracefulness and delicacy of the womanly mind, but over and above all this, and combined with it, the literature of our times has developed an energy which womanly authorship had not shown before: I do not mean a masculine energy, but a genuine womanly power. Those writers who are, I think, chiefly distinguished for such power, as well as beauty of genius, are Mrs. Jameson, as a prose-writer, and especially in her admirable criticisms both on art and literature; Mrs. Kemble, Mrs. Norton, and Mrs. Browning, formerly Miss Barrett. Indulge me with a few minutes more for an illustration or two of the poetic power I speak of. Every person, probably, after youth is passed, is conscious at some time of a deep craving for repose, for a tranquillity inward and outward : this universal feeling is thus expressed in these lines: “But to be still ! oh, but to cease a while The panting breath and hurrying steps of life, The sights, the sounds, the struggle, and the strife, Of hourly being; the sharp biting file Of action fretting on the tightened chain Of rough existence; all that is not pain,

But utter weariness oh to be free,
But for a while, from comScious entity

To shut the banging doors and windows wide
Of restless sense, and let the soul abide,
Darkly and stilly, for a little space,
Gathering its strength up to pursue the race;
Oh, heavens ! to rest a moment, but to rest,
From this quick, gasping life, were to be blest l”

It is an honourable and characteristic distinction of the female authorship of the day that it has devoted itself, in Several forms, to the cause of suffering humanity.

“Some there are whose names will live
Not in the memories, but the hearts of men,
Because those hearts they comforted and raised;
And where they saw God's images cast down,
Lifted them up again, and blew the dust
From the worn features and disfigured limb.”f

Would you know what might there is in the voice that speaks from a woman-poet's full heart, what power of imagination no less than of sympathy and pity, find that earnest plea which Elizabeth Barrett uttered against the horrid sacrifice to Mammon, which was once the shame of Britain's factories. It is entitled “The Cry of the Children.” I quote only the opening and closing stanzas:

“Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
Ere the sorrow comes with years?
They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,
And that cannot stop their tears.
The young lambs are bleating in the meadows,
The young birds are chirping in the nest,
The young fawns are playing with the shadows,
The young flowers are blowing toward the West;

* Poems by Frances Anne Kemble, p. 151. i Landor's Lines to “The Author of Mary Barton,” in the Examiner,

March 17, 1849.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »