Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 63.djvu/38

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Wordsworth
Wordsworth
14

sense that the face of every passer-by was a mystery. He was, as Coleridge notes, a spectator ab extra. Meanwhile he was puzzled as to his future. His sister calculated in December 1791 (Knight, Life, i. 52) that there would be about 1,000l. apiece for her and her three younger brothers, from which, in William's case, the cost of his education would be deducted. He had wished to be a lawyer ‘if his health would permit.’ He had thoughts for a time of entering the army (Memoirs, ii. 466). He was urged to take orders, but he was not yet of the right age, and probably was not sufficiently orthodox. He had learnt Italian, French, and Spanish; was writing poetry, and was thinking of studying ‘the oriental languages.’ These accomplishments were of little commercial value; but he thought that by learning French thoroughly he might qualify himself to be a travelling tutor. He had money enough for a year abroad, and accordingly left England in November 1791.

He passed through Paris, heard debates at the assembly and at the Jacobins' Club; he pocketed a relic of the Bastille, but admits that he ‘affected more emotion than he felt.’ He went to Orleans, and thence early in 1792 to Blois. Here he made acquaintance with the officers of a regiment quartered in the town. Most of them were royalists, intending to emigrate at the first opportunity. One of them, however, Michel de Beaupuy (1755−1796), though of noble birth, was an ardent republican (see Le Général Michel de Beaupuy, by G. B. and Emile Legouis, Paris, 1891; and Emile Legouis's Jeunesse de Wordsworth, 1896, pp. 206−18). Wordsworth was predisposed to republicanism by his education in a simple society and by his life in ‘the literary republic’ of Cambridge. Beaupuy's personal charm and accomplishments gave him great influence with his young friend, in whose eyes he resembled one of Plutarch's heroes (Prelude, ix. 419). When Beaupuy pointed to a ‘hunger-bitten’ peasant girl, and said ‘it is against that that we are fighting’ (ib. ix. 517), Wordsworth became a thorough disciple. From Beaupuy he heard the story afterwards made into his dullest poem, ‘Vaudracour and Julia’ (ib. ix. 548. In the Fenwick notes Wordsworth says that he heard the story from a lady who was an ‘eye and ear witness’). Beaupuy afterwards distinguished himself in Vendée, where Wordsworth erroneously says that he was killed (he was really killed on the Elz on 19 Oct. 1796). In October Wordsworth returned to Paris, which was still under the influence of the September massacres. He was disgusted by the failure of Louvet's attack upon Robespierre (29 Oct.), and was half inclined to take some active part in support of the Girondins. He felt, however, his incapacity as an insignificant foreigner, and was moreover at the end of his money. He returned to England in December 1792. Soon after his return he first appeared as an author. Joseph Johnson [q. v.], who published for many of the revolutionary party, brought out the ‘Evening Walk’ and the ‘Descriptive Sketches’ early in 1793. In both poems the metre and diction conform to the conventions of the old-fashioned school, to whom Pope was still the recognised model. The ‘Evening Walk,’ composed during his college vacations spent at the lakes, is remarkable for its series of accurate transcripts of natural scenery, obviously made on the spot. The ‘Descriptive Sketches’ describes the journey to Switzerland and was composed in France, where he helped a fading memory of details from the work of the French painter Ramond (Legouis, p. 117; Sainte-Beuve's Causeries, x. 454), who in 1781 translated Archdeacon Coxe's letters from Switzerland, with additional notes. The poem recalls Goldsmith's ‘Traveller,’ and illustrates Wordsworth's politics at the time of its composition. He bewails the harsh lot of the poor peasant in language recalling the hunger-bitten peasant of Blois. Wordsworth observes in the ‘Prelude’ that he and Jones had t‘aken up dejection for pleasure's sake’ (Prelude, vi. 551), and the pessimism may be a little forced. It leads up to an eager expression of sympathy for the defenders of liberty in France. Coleridge read the poem at Cambridge in 1794, and thought that ‘the emergence of an original poetical genius above the horizon’ had seldom been ‘more evidently pronounced,’ though the style was still contorted and obscure (Biogr. Lit. 1847, i. 64, 75). Few readers, however, were Coleridges, and the poem attracted little notice. Wordsworth's political principles found more energetic expression in a letter to Richard Watson [q. v.], bishop of Llandaff, who in January 1793 had published an attack on the revolution. The letter shows that Wordsworth, while professing hearty detestation of violence, strongly sympathised with the principles advocated "in Paine's ‘Rights of Man.’ It was not published till it appeared in Dr. Grosart's edition of the ‘Prose Works.’

The outbreak of war placed Wordsworth's philanthropy in painful conflict with his patriotism. He exulted (Prelude, x. 185) in the humiliation and was distressed by the victories of the country which he loved. His prospects in life became still more pre-