Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 63.djvu/41

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Wordsworth
Wordsworth
17

him back, and presented it to Wordsworth, who brought out a second edition in 1800. To this he added a preface upon ‘poetic diction,’ arguing that the language of poetry should be identical with that of ‘real life.’ This became the text of Coleridge's admirable criticism of Wordsworth in the ‘Biographia Literaria.’ Wordsworth in his preface apologised for publishing the ‘Ancient Mariner,’ which had offended the critics and, as he thought, injured the sale of the volume (see J. D. Campbell in Coleridge's Poetical Works, 1893, p. 596, and Cottle, Early Recollections, ii. 47), while Coleridge attributed the unpopularity to Wordsworth's unfortunate theory. Wordsworth, indeed, I was very far from adhering to it in practice, as appeared, for example, in the magnificent ‘Lines on Tintern Abbey’ in this volume (commemorating a ramble with his sister and Cottle in June 1798). Other pieces, however, contained some of the puerile and prosaic passages which excited the ridicule of critics and were parodied in ‘Rejected Addresses.’ The tendency to lapse into prose was a permanent weakness, but at this time was intensified by Wordsworth's state of mind. He had escaped from his revolutionary passion by regaining his early sympathy for the quiet life round ‘the village steeple,’ and had found ‘love in huts where poor men lie.’ He rejected the ‘artificial’ language of Pope and Gray, which had been ‘natural’ to men of the world and scholars; and tried to adopt the language of the peasant of real life. The genuine pathos gradually impressed a growing circle of readers; but for the moment his lapses into a clumsy rusticity gave an easy triumph to the judicious critic.

In January 1798 Coleridge, having been pensioned by the Wedgwoods, planned a visit to Germany, and the Wordsworths resolved to join him. They intended (Knight, i. 147) to spend two years in learning German and ‘natural science.’ They left Alfoxden on 26 June, and, after a stay at Bristol seeing the ‘Lyrical Ballads’ through the press, sailed from Yarmouth on 16 Sept. After a week at Hamburg, where they saw Klopstock, the Wordsworths settled at Goslar, while Coleridge went to Ratzeburg and Göttingen. Goslar was chosen for its quiet, and turned out to be a ‘lifeless’ place. The Wordsworths saw no society, because, as he had a lady with him, he would have been bound to entertain in return, and because he hated tobacco, and, according to Coleridge, was unsociable and hypochondriacal (Coleridge, Letters, i. 273). The winter was so cold that the people at his house told him ‘rather unfeelingly’ that he would be frozen to death (note to ‘Lines written in Germany’), and, instead of associating with Germans, he composed poetry chiefly about himself. He wrote the beginning of the ‘Prelude’ on 10 Feb 1799 on his way to a visit to Coleridge. He also wrote the poems to Lucy. She has been taken for a real person, and was made the heroine of a silly story by the Baroness von Stockhausen. Nothing, however, is known to suggest that there was any such person. The verses, ‘She was a phantom of delight,’ which Miss Martineau thought applicable to ‘Lucy’ (Miss Martineau's ‘Mrs. Wordsworth’ in Biographical Sketches), were really addressed to his wife (Knight, i. 189). Coleridge (Letters, p. 284) surmised that one of the poems ‘A slumber did my spirit seal’ referred to Dorothy. The residence in Germany had no traceable effect upon Wordsworth's mind. The cost of living was more than he had expected, and early in 1799 he returned with his sister to England, after spending a day with Coleridge at Göttingen (Coleridge, Letters, pp. 288, 296). They reached England about the end of April. Their plans for the future were unsettled, and they went at once to stay with their friends the Hutchinsons at Sockburn-on-Tees. Coleridge soon followed them, and at the end of October Wordsworth, with his brother John and Coleridge, made an excursion to the lakes. There he was impressed by the beauty of a vacant house called Dove Cottage, at Town End, Grasmere. He resolved to take it at once, and soon afterwards travelled on foot with his sister from Sockburn, reaching Dove Cottage on 21 Dec. 1799. The cottage was small, as befitted their means, but the country was so congenial that they remained in it for the rest of their lives. Wordsworth settled down to the composition of poetry, working at the long philosophical work which was to sum up his whole theory of life, and writing many occasional poems, some of which are among his best. Dorothy's journals show that he laboured steadily at his task, and was often tired and upset by the excitement or by the trouble of revising. She was constantly noting effects of scenery with her usual delicacy, and recording little incidents which supplied texts for her brother. Coleridge was still their closest intimate. He settled at Keswick in July 1800, after a short stay at Dove Cottage, and in the following period was constantly coming over to Grasmere. The Wordsworths knew a few neighbours — W. Calvert (who was building a house at Wendy Brow), Thomas Clarkson (who was

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