Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 63.djvu/48

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Wordsworth
Wordsworth
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of the prince consort as chancellor of the university of Cambridge. It was received with great applause. Wordsworth was still vigorous. Some memorials of his conversation are given by Mrs. (Eliza) Fletcher [q. v.] and her daughters, Lady Richardson and Mrs. Davy. Disciples such as Henry Taylor, Mr. Aubrey de Vere, and Matthew Arnold paid him their homage, and he was the object of general reverence. His son William married Miss Graham. Mrs. Quillinan was taken ill soon afterwards. Her parents returned from a visit to Christopher Wordsworth at Westminster upon hearing of her state. After two months of anxiety she died on 9 July. Wordsworth's grief was overpowering and darkened his remaining years. In 1849 he visited one of the Hutchinsons at Malvern, and there had his last interview with Robinson. On 10 March 1850 he was able to attend divine service at Rydal chapel, but a day or two later caught cold and gradually sank, dying peacefully on 23 April 1850. He was buried in Grasmere churchyard on the 27th by the side of his children. Dorothy Wordsworth died on 25 Jan. 1855. Mrs. Wordsworth survived till her ninetieth year, and died on 17 Jan. 1859, when she was buried beside her husband. John, the elder of the two surviving sons, died in 1875, and William, the younger, in 1883. Both left children.

The criticism of Wordsworth's poetry by S. T. Coleridge in the ‘Biographia Literaria’ is still unsurpassed. Later criticisms of interest are by Sir Henry Taylor (in ‘Notes on Books,’ 1849); Mr. Aubrey de Yere in ‘Essays chiefly on Poetry,’ 1887, vol. i.; Matthew Arnold (in a preface to a selection of ‘Poems,’ 1880); Dean Church (in Mr. Humphry Ward's ‘English Poets,’ 1880, vol. iv.); Shairp in ‘Studies in Philosophy and Poetry,’ 1868; R. H. Hutton in ‘Essays Philosophical and Literary,’ 1871, vol. ii.; Walter Pater in ‘Appreciations,’ 1890 ; Mr. A. C. Swinburne in ‘Miscellanies,’ 1886: Mr. John Morley (in ‘Introduction’ to edition of poems in 1888); and J. R. Lowell (in ‘Among my Books’). J. S. Mill in his ‘Autobiography’ (pp. 146, &c.) has an interesting account of the effect upon himself of reading Wordsworth. The soothing influence which Mill recognised no doubt explains the strong affection which Wordsworth has inspired in all sympathetic readers. No poet has been more loved because none has expressed more forcibly and truly the deepest moral emotions. Some critics have laboured to show that his poetry was not a philosophy such as Coleridge fondly expected to find in the ‘Excursion.’ Wordsworth was to begin by exposing the ‘sandy sophisms of Locke,’ and to show the reconciliation of true idealism and true realism (Coleridge, Letters, ii. 643). Wordsworth, in fact, was only puzzled by metaphysical arguments, and could not, if any one could, transmute them into poetry. His ‘philosophy,’ if he be allowed to have one, must be taken to correspond to a profound and consistent perception of certain vitally important aspects of human life. His aim from the first was to find fit utterance for the primary and simple feelings. The attempt to utter the corresponding truths has an awkward tendency to degenerate into platitude; and WTordsworth's revolt against the ‘artificial’ style of the previous school led to his trivialities. He seems to have thought that because the peasant has the feelings common to man, the peasant's language could give them adequate expression. He became inartistic at times from fear of being unnatural. He fully recognised, indeed, the necessity of polishing his poems, as is shown by his continual revisions (given in Knight's edition). A certain clumsiness always remains; but in his earlier period he had the power of arresting simple thought with the magic of poetical inspiration. The great stimulus came from the French revolution. The sympathy which he felt with the supposed restoration of an idyllic order disappeared when it took the form of social disintegration. The growth of pauperism and the factory system, and the decay of old simple society, intensified the impression; and some of his noblest poems are devoted to celebrating the virtues which he took to be endangered. Wordsworth's love of ‘nature’ is partly an expression of the same feeling. He loved the mountains because they were the barriers which protected the peasant. He loved them also because they echoed his own most characteristic moods. His ‘mystical’ or pantheistic view of nature meant the delight of the lonely musings when he had to ‘grasp a tree’ to convince himself of the reality of the world (Memoirs, ii. 280). The love of nature was therefore the other side of his ‘egotism.’ He hated the scientific view which substituted mere matter of fact for emotional stimulus. The truth and power of his sentiment make this the most original and most purely poetical element in his writings. He could as little rival Coleridge and Shelley in soaring above the commonplace world as Byron or Burns in uttering the passions. But in his own domain, the expression of the deep and solemn emotions of a quiet recluse among simple people and impressive scenery, he