Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 63.djvu/39

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

carious. His relatives had been disgusted by his refusal to take up a regular profession, and were not likely to be propitiated by his avowed principles. For some time his life was desultory. In the summer of 1793 he stayed in the Isle of Wight with an old schoolfellow, William Calvert, one of the sons of R. Calvert, steward to the Duke of Norfolk. Here he watched the ships at Spithead with melancholy forebodings of a long, disastrous, and unrighteous war. He went on foot through Salisbury Plain and by Tintern Abbey to his friend Jones in Wales. In the beginning of 1794 he went to the lakes, and soon afterwards joined his sister at Halifax to talk over his prospects. He had resolved not to take orders, and had ‘neither strength of mind, purse, or constitution’ for ‘the bar,’ nor could he hear of a place as tutor. His sister accompanied him back to the lakes, where they stayed at a farm belonging to his friend Calvert at Windy Brow, near Keswick. They afterwards visited their uncle, Richard Wordsworth, a solicitor at Whitehaven. Wordsworth proposed to his friend Mathews, a London journalist, to start a monthly miscellany to be called ‘The Philanthropist.’ While this was under discussion he was staying with Raisley, brother of William Calvert, at Penrith. Raisley Calvert was failing in health, and soon afterwards died of consumption. He left 900l. to Wordsworth, partly, as Wordsworth told Sir G. Beaumont, ‘from a confidence on his part that I had power and attainments which might be of use to mankind.’ But for this legacy he might, he says, have been forced into the church or the law. With the help of it and a few small windfalls he managed to support himself and his sister for the next seven or eight years. In 1795 Basil Montagu [q. v.], then a widower, with a son four or five years old, proposed that Wordsworth should become the child's tutor for 50l. a year. Montagu also obtained for him the offer of a farmhouse at Racedown, between Crewkerne in Somerset and Lyme in Dorset. The owner was a Mr. Pinney of Bristol, one of Montagu's friends. The Wordsworths apparently occupied it rent free, with an orchard and garden. Dorothy Wordsworth calculates that with the legacy and a little cousin of whom she was to take charge, they would have an income of ‘at least 70l. or 80l.’ a year (Knight, i. 104). They settled at Racedown in the autumn of 1795, and Wordsworth began to labour steadily in his vocation. His revolutionary sympathies were still strong. He had been deeply agitated by the ‘reign of terror.’' He declares that for months and years ‘after the last beat of those atrocities’ (Prelude, x. 400) his sleep was generally broken by ‘ghastly visions’ of cruelty to ‘innocent victims.’ When crossing the sands of Morecambe Bay in August 1794 he heard of the death of Robespierre with ‘transport,’ and expected that the ‘golden time’ would now really come. His old hopes revived, but were disappointed when he saw that the war of self-defence was becoming a war of conquest. His first writings expressed the emotions of the earlier period. His ‘Guilt and Sorrow,’ in which he abandons the Pope model to the great benefit of his style, was composed of two tragic stories: one of a ‘female vagrant’ whose miseries were due to the ruin caused by war and her husband's enlistment in the army, was partly written, he says, ‘at least two years before;’ the other, of a man who had been impressed in the navy, and led to commit murder by excusable irritation at the social injustice, was suggested during his ramble over Salisbury Plain in 1793. The story, which was used in Barham's ‘Ingoldsby Legends,’ is told in the ‘New Annual Register’ for 1786 (Occurrences, p. 27), and in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for same year (i. 521). The ‘Female Vagrant’ appeared in the ‘Lyrical Ballads;’ the whole in the ‘Poems’ of 1842. He wrote at Racedown some satires, imitated from Juvenal, which he proposed to publish in a joint volume with his friend Archdeacon Wrangham. From a fragment (given in Athenæum, 8 Dec. 1894) it appears that he spoke some unpleasant truths about the Prince of Wales. He resolved, however, to ‘steer clear of personal satire,’ and refused to allow the publication. In 1795−6 he composed a tragedy called ‘The Borderers.’ No poem could have less local colour, though he read Ridpath's ‘Border-History’ in order to get some, and he had not the slightest dramatic power. It was offered to Covent Garden at the end of 1797, and the Wordsworths went to London to request of ‘one of the principal actors’ to consider possible alterations. It was, however, rejected, as Wordsworth apparently expected. ‘The Borderers’ was intended, he says, to make intelligible the ‘apparently motiveless actions of bad men,’ and was founded upon his reflections during the ‘Terror.’ The wicked hero has learnt to regard all morality as merely conventional, and gets rid of scruples in general. As M. Legouis has pointed out, Wordsworth was thinking of the revolutionary doctrine as represented by Godwin, whose ‘Political Justice’ (1793) was taken at the time as a philosophical revelation. Wordsworth describes the perplexity into which he was thrown by his attempt to defend his principles