« AnteriorContinuar »
have been considered as mere inequalities, and attributed to inattention, not to perversity of judgement. The men of business who had passed their lives chiefly in cities, and who might therefore be expected to derive the highest pleasure from acute notices of men and manners conveyed in easy, yet correct and pointed language ; and all those who, reading but little poetry, are most stimulated with that species of it, which seems most distant from prose, would probably have passed by the volume altogether. Others more catholic in their taste, and yet habituated to be most pleased when most excited, would have contented themselves with deciding, that the author had been successful in proportion to the elevation of his style and subject. Not a few perhaps, might by their admiration of “ the lines written near Tintern Abbey,” those “ left upon a Seat under a Yew Tree,” the “old Cumberland beg
Ruth,” have been gradually led to peruse with kindred feeling the “Brothers,” the “Hart leap well," and whatever other
in that collection may be described as holding a middle place between those written in the highest and those in the humblest style; as for instance between the “ Tintern Abbey,” and " the Thorn,” or the “ Simon Lee.” Should their taste submit to no further change, and still remain unreconciled to the colloquial
gar,” and “
phrases, or the imitations of them, that are, more or less, scattered through the class last mentioned ; yet even from the small number of the latter, they would have deemed them but an inconsiderable subtraction from the merit of the whole work ; or, what is sometimes not unpleasing in the publication of a new writer, as serving to ascertain the natural tendency, and consequently the proper direction of the author's genius.
In the critical remarks therefore, prefixed and annexed to the “ Lyrical Ballads," I believe, that we may safely rest, as the true origin of the unexampled opposition which Mr. Wordsworth's writings have been since doomed to encounter. The humbler passages in the poems themselves were dwelt on and cited to justify the rejection of the theory. What in and for themselves would have been either forgotten or forgiven as imperfections, or at least comparative failures, provoked direct hostility when announced as intentional, as the result of choice after full deliberation. Thus the poems, admitted by all as excellent, joined with those which had pleased the far greater number, though they formed two-thirds of the whole work, instead of being deemed (as in all right they should have been, even if we take for granted that the reader judged aright) au atonement for the few exceptions, gave wind
and fuel to the animosity against both the poems and the poet. In all perplexity there is a portion of fear, which predisposes the mind to anger. Not able to deny that the author possessed both genius and a powerful intellect, they felt very positive, but were not quite certain, that he might not be in the right, and they themselves in the wrong; an unquiet state of mind, which seeks alleviation by quarrelling with the occasion of it, and by wondering at the perverseness of the man, who had written a long and argumentative essay to persuade them, that That this conjecture is not wide from the mark, I am induced to believe from the noticeable fact, which I can state on my own knowledge, that the same general censure should have been grounded almost by each different person on some different poem. Among those, whose candour and judgement I estimate highly, I distinctly remember six who expressed their objections to the “ Lyrical Ballads” almost in the same words, and altogether to the same purport, at the same time admitting, that several of the poems had given them great pleasure; and, strange as it might seem, the composition which one had cited as execrable, another had quoted as his favorite.
« Fair is foul, and foul is fair;" in other words, that they had been all their lives admiring without judgement, and were now about to censure without reason.*
* In opinions of long continuance, and in which we had never before been molested by a single doubt, to be suddenly convinced of an error, is almost like being convicted of a fault. There is a state of mind, which is the direct antithesis of that, which takes place when we make a bull. The bull namely consists in the bringing together two incompatible thoughts, with the sensation, but without the sense, of their connection. The psychological condition, or that which constitutes the possibility of this state, being such disproportionate vividness of two distant thoughts, as extinguishes or obscures the consciousness of the intermediate images or conceptions, or wholly abstracts the attention from them. Thus in the well known bull, “ I was a fine child, but they changed me;" the first conception expressed in the word “l," is that of personal identity-Ego contemplans: the second expressed in the word “me," is the visual image or object by which the mind represents to itself its past condition, or rather, its personal identity under the form in which it imagined itself previously to have existed,
Ego contemplatus. Now the change of one visual image for another involves in itself no absurdity, and becomes absurd only by its immediate juxta-position with the first thought, which is rendered possible by the whole attention being successively absorbed in each singly, so as not to notice the interjacent notion, “ changed" which by its incongruity with the first thought, “I,” constitutes the bull. Add only, that this process is facilitated by the circumstance of the words
1,” and “ me," being sometimes equivalent, and sometimes having a distinct meaning; sometimes, namely, signifying the act of self-consciousness, sometimes the external image in and by which the mind represents that act to itself, theresult and symbol of its individuality. Now suppose the direct contrary state, and you will have a distinct sense of the connection between two conceptions, without that sensation of such connection which is supplied by habit. The man feels, as if he were standing on his bead, though he cannot but see, that he is truly standing on his feet. This, as a painful sensation, wiil of course have a tendency to associate itself with the person who occasions it ; even as persons, who have been by painful means restored from derangement, are known to feel an involuntary dislike towards their physician.
I am indeed convinced in my own mind, that could the same experiment have been tried with these volumes, as was made in the well known story of the picture, the result would have been the same ; the parts which had been covered by the number of the black spots on the one day, would be found equally albo lapide notatæ on the succeeding
However this may be, it is assuredly hard and unjust to fix the attention on a few separate and insulated poems with as much aversion, as if they had been so many plague-spots on the whole work, instead of passing them over in silence, as so much blank paper, or leaves of bookseller's catalogue ; especially, as no one pretends to have found immorality or indelicacy; and the poems therefore, at the worst, could only be regarded as so many light or inferior coins in a roleau of gold, not as so much alloy in a weight of bullion. A friend whose talents I hold in the highest respect, but whose judgement and strong sound sense I have had almost continued occasion to revere, making the usual complaints to me concerning both the style and subjects of Mr. Wordsworth's minor poems ; I admitted that there were some few of the tales and incidents, in which I could not myself find a sufficient cause for their having been recorded in metre. I mentioned the “Alice