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persons and things the least likely to afford them; and this excited ridicule when he deserved admiration. But he was not the only poet whom the slashing critic of the North, perhaps, assisted to rise to his proper place, by directing the attention of unprejudiced readers to works in which they could find beauties, though he could not. Few poets have written with less of that encouragement which a man of genius values most-the voice of the public. But for the fortunate connection with the Lowther family, Wordsworth would have added another instance to the many who find
“How hard it is to climb
William Wordsworth was born at Cockermouth, in Cumberland, the second son of John Wordsworth, law agent to that very extraordinary character Sir James Lowther, first Earl of Lonsdale, by Anne, only daughter of William Cookson, mercer, of Penrith, whose wife was of the old family of Crackanthorp. His infancy was passed between Cockermouth and Penrith. His mother died when he was eight years old. He was sent to school at Hawkshead, where, although he certainly exhibited symptoms of genius, he did not greatly distinguish himself; his lines in imitation of the style of Pope being but a weak attempt: indeed, if “the boy was father to the
it was strange he should have made it, for no two styles can be more different than his and Pope's. At the age of fourteen he lost his father, and this melancholy event darkened the prospects of the family for years, as the greater part of their property consisted in claims of between eight and nine thousand pounds upon the father's patron, Sir James Lowther. It is necessary to be connected in some degree with Cumberland to know the traditions belonging to this arbitrary man. He refused to pay them; litigation with him would have been madness ; so they fought life's battle as well as they could for several years, till the death of this first Earl of Lonsdale placed their destiny in the hands of the second earl, who, much to his honour, seemed to think himself bound to repair, not only by prompt payment of the claims, but by his unremitting patronage, the injuries the Wordsworths had sustained from his predecessor.
The guardians of William were his two uncles, Richard Wordsworth and Christopher Crackanthorp, by whom he was sent to Cambridge University in 1787. But Wordsworth was not a university man,--he was a poet born ; consequently a desultory reader, and not a student. He, no doubt, read a great deal ; but his explorations into the great volume of nature were more earnest than into the “ monuments of buried minds," books; and his studies were not such as would be likely to procure him high academic honours or the reputation of a profound scholar. He, as was to be naturally expected, neglected the principal object of Cambridge, the mathematics, to read the classics and learn Italian. He offended his uncle by refusing to add his poetical offering to the memory of Dr. Chevalier, the principal of his college. But he did not like the doctor, and his muse was too independent or too idle to sing one elegiac note. In 1790, in company with his friend Jones, he made a pedestrian tour on the continent, carrying their own appointments, and each with about twenty pounds in his pocket. It is wonderful to think how far they made this poor sum carry them. He took his degree in 1791. After this he made a short sojourn in London, and then enjoyed a Welsh tour. In the same year he published his “Descriptive Sketches,” the fruit of his various tours. This attracted but little public notice, but procured him what he perhaps valued more—the friendship of Coleridge. These two men, though differing strongly in style of writing, assimilated amazingly in tastes, opinions, and pursuits. Both were metaphysical ; but in their writing there is this difference-Wordsworth, in sounding the depths of everything that comes in his way, employs more words, in a simple manner, than are necessary to make everything clear that he means to say, whilst Coleridge, with the same view and the same superabundance of words, mystifies every subject, even the most common, that he treats of. But theirs proved an honourable, consistent, well-assorted friendship, and was only broken by the death of Coleridge.
Wordsworth led a wandering uncertain life for three years. His friends wished him to enter the Church, 'but he was prevented by conscientious scruples. He resided more than a year in France, for the sake of learning the language. This was a busy time: men's minds were in a ferment throughout Europe, and it was not likely for a man with a poetical temperament to keep out of the vortex. Like all young poets, he was a republican ; but, though he freely wrote and spoke his opinions among friends, I do not learn that he interfered actively, either by pen or person, in politics. The most curious circumstance is that the triumvirate, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey (though then Southey was unknown to them), who were at first all violent republicans, became afterwards such renegades to the cause of liberty as to be opposed to Catholic emancipation, reform, and the other great social ameliorations of their period.
In 1794, one of those singular circumstances happened to him that almost lead us to believe there is a special Providence attonding the mission of some men of genius. A young friend, upon whom, during a severe illness, he attended with affectionate assiduity, died, and left him a legacy of £900, solely and expressly from a belief that Wordsworth would distinguish himself, and that this money should prevent his being cramped in his aspirations by poverty. From this period his life may be looked upon as an exception to the general fate of poets ; for the current ran as smoothly as human nature has reason to expect. It is true he never derived much advantage from his poetical works, that is, in comparison with some of his contemporaries; but, before the £900 were spent, the tenacious Lord Lonsdale died, and the contested claims were satisfied. By the influence of the second earl, in 1813, he obtained the appointment of distributor of stamps for the county of Westmoreland, a post which, with a good income, allowed him plenty of leisure for his darling pursuit. Soon after this appointment, Mr. John Carter came to him, as clerk, and proved a great acquisition as an amanuensis, corrector of the press, and a discerning critic and companion.
But the stream of the poet's prosperity has carried me on rather too fast. With the acquisition of the £900 came on Wordsworth's true poetical life. He almost immediately settled with his sister at Racedown, near Crewkerne, in Dorsetshire. In 1796 he wrote his tragedy of “The Borderers," which he was led to believe would be played at Covent Garden : but it was rejected, and not published till many years after. His friend Coleridge likewise wrote a tragedy with the same fate, at the time, but which was played sixteen years later with comparative success, under the title of “ The Remorse.”
But now, settled with his sister, he went seriously to work, and poetry must have been their daily and nightly vocation. Had poverty been knocking at the door or attempting to get in at the window, they could not have laboured more earnestly to keep her out than they did in this task of love : nothing was too high for the Muse to soar to, or too humble for her to stoop to : the most glorious objects of nature, or the lowest dregs of humanity, equally afforded subjects for verse. In 1797, he and his sister removed to a village in Somersetshire, to be near Coleridge, where he resided a year, and wrote a great deal. The three performed a delightful pedestrian tour in Devonshire, during which the “ Ancient Mariner” was begun. They, at first, agreed to write it conjointly, but soon had the good sense to perceive that though they might think alike, they had very different modes of putting their thoughts upon paper, and it was given over to Coleridge.
In 1798, the first volume of the “Lyrical Ballads” was published, the “Ancient Mariner” being the opening piece. Their friend Cottle, of Bristol, was the publisher : it was in one small volume, and only 500 copies were printed. The success it met with may be judged of by the circumstance that when Cottle, some time after, made over his business to Longmans, the copyright was valued at nothing, and returned to Cottle, who presented it to the authors. It may seem strange that poems which are now so universally admired, should meet with such a cold reception. But, independently of the style being new, Mr. Wordsworth certainly did not choose attractive subjects. By his genius he has proved his power of not only giving value to trifles, but likewise that great poetical beauty is to be found in these trifles. Such a volume, from unknown bands, would not even now, with all our enlarged perceptions, meet with a remunerative sale. “ The Ancient Mariner,” notwithstanding its acknowledged beauties, its depths of thought, its flights of imagination, and its mysterious power over most readers, does not, at this moment, escape the ridicule of some, and they sensible men too.
In 1798, Wordsworth and his sister went to Germany for the sake of studying the language. They resided at Goslar during many months. They here met with Klopstock, who, though old, must have been in the zenith of his fame, if we may judge by the manner in which Goethe had not long before spoken of him in « Werter.”
On their return to England in 1799, Wordsworth and Coleridge visited the Lake Country, which was the first time Coleridge had been there. From that tour, perhaps, originated the great partiality which both constantly evinced for that beautiful region. In the winter of 1799, Wordsworth and his sister settled at Grasmere, where they remained eight years. In 1800 the second volume of the " Lyrical Ballads” was published, with little more success than the first. But, nothing daunted, true to the “mind that burned within him," confident in the future, he still wrote poetry upon all and everything. It is impossible, indeed, in my limited space, to follow him or even name the various productions of his muse. He was not pinched by want ; his residence and its neighbouring scenery teemed with poetry, and above all, he had in his sister the society of that kindred spirit which is so necessary for the enjoyment of every pleasure. How beautifully does he, himself, express his sense of this blessing :
“A little prattler among men,
And love, and thought, and joy."
lost two children when young, and, living to an advanced age, he lost even the daughter that was dearest to him ; but, though he could not boast of the extraordiuary good fortune in every way of an Izaac Walton, his was, upon the whole, a happy life. In 1802, after a visit to London, and a trip to France in company with his sister, he drew a prize in the great lottery of life, and married an amiable woman. The journey to London, made by both himself and his sister on the outside of the Dover coach, proves what I have asserted, that, when together, everything was rich in poetry. It was while entering London, on that occasion, that he composed one of his most felicitous pieces : “Crossing Westminster Bridge at four in the morning.” It even stands in its title, “Composed on the outside of the Dover coach.” Who shall say how much of that exquisite piece owed its charm to the spiritual being who accompanied him ?
On Monday, October 4, 1802, Wordsworth was married at Brompton Church, near Scarborough, to Mary Hutchinson, and went directly home to Grasmere. Of this marriage the best idea may be formed from his writing—he who found poetry in the commonest events of life, was not likely to neglect it in this. In the lines “Farewell,” &c., when he and his sister went to fetch his wife home, we can perceive the disposition in which he entered the holy state ; and, in the most perfect of all his compositions, written three years after, we can learn with gratification, that even the poet's anticipations were not disappointed. He says, at first, “She was a phantom of delight,” but that after this three years' union, he could see,
“ With eye serene,
With something of an angel light.” By this happy marriage he had five children, two of whom died when young.
In 1803, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Miss Wordsworth made a tour in Scotland, to which the Scotch poems in the collection are due. They here met with Mr. Scott, afterwards Sir Walter, who did the honours of his native country to his brother poets. Opposites, it is said, sometimes agree better than those with similar tastes. Mr. Scott, perhaps, loved poetry nearly as well as the two Lakers, but no persons could differ from each other more widely in the utterance of their inspirations. In February, 1803, he, to his deep regret, lost his brother John, captain of the Earl of Abergavenny, wrecked on the shambles of the Bolt of Portland.