Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 63.djvu/45

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

In May 1812 Wordsworth came to London, and Crabb Robinson acted as a friendly mediator. The difficulty was that, although Wordsworth could deny that he had sent any message or used the words repeated by Coleridge, who had probably exaggerated Montagu's exaggerated version, he could not deny that he had said something which would be painful to Coleridge. He might have used the word ‘nuisance’ in regard to some of Coleridge's habits, which undoubtedly deserved the name; but he denied that he had applied it to Coleridge himself. Wordsworth was both delicate and straightforward, and Coleridge ended by accepting his statements. At the end of the year he wrote a very warm letter of condolence upon the death of Wordsworth's son. It included a reference (Coleridge, Letters, p. 601) to his feeling for Sarah Hutchinson, of which Wordsworth would naturally disapprove. At any rate, he delayed answering, but he then wrote inviting Coleridge to Grasmere, where his company would be the greatest comfort to his friend. Coleridge went off to the seaside and made no reply. Intercourse was renewed by some letters in 1815 upon poetical points; but in 1816 Wordsworth was annoyed at the criticisms in the ‘Biographia Literaria,’ and the friendship was not re-established till 1817, and never regained the old warmth. The quarrel which suspended one of the most remarkable of literary friendships was regarded by Coleridge as one of the ‘four griping sorrows of his life’ (Allsop, Coleridge, ii. 140). Though known to so many people at the time, the facts have only recently been made public (Knight, ii. 168−7 ; J. D. Campbell, Coleridge, pp. 179−85, 193−7; Coleridge, Letters, pp. 578, 586−612. A full account given in Crabb Robinson's Diary was suppressed by the editor. Mrs. Clarkson wrote to him that Wordsworth's conduct had been affectionate and ‘forbearing throughout’).

In the summer of 1810 the Wordsworths had moved from Allan Bank to the parsonage at Grasmere. Two of the children were ailing, and both died in 1812 — Catherine on 4 June and Thomas on 1 Dec. They were buried in the churchyard, and the painful association made Wordsworth anxious to leave the house. Early in 1813 he moved accordingly to Rydal Mount, the house which he occupied for the rest of his life. In 1812 he had applied to Lord Lonsdale to obtain some situation for him, stating that his actual literary pursuits brought in little money, and that he could not turn to less exalted and more profitable work. Lord Lonsdale, after applying fruitlessly to Lord Liverpool, offered an allowance (apparently of 100l. a year) from himself (Knight, ii. 209). Wordsworth accepted this, after some hesitation, but soon afterwards Lonsdale obtained for him the office of distributor of stamps for the county of Westmoreland. [The statement that Lonsdale acted upon a hint from Rogers, who had said that the Wordsworths had often to abstain from meat (Rogers and his Contemporaries, i. 103), cannot be accurate.] The office brought him in about 400l. a year. A good deal of the work was done by a clerk, John Carter, who served him for his life, and edited the ‘Prelude’ after his death. It involved, however, some careful superintendence, and Wordsworth says that for seven years he or ‘one of his nearest connections’ had been daily on the spot (Knight, ii. 211).

In 1814 Wordsworth made another tour in Scotland, when he saw Hogg and Gillies, who published several of his letters in ‘Memoirs of a Literary Veteran.’ In July appeared the ‘Excursion.’ When finishing the ‘Prelude’ he says that the task ‘of his life’ will be over if he can finish the ‘Recluse’ and ‘a narrative poem of the epic kind’ (to Beaumont, 3 June 1805). The epic was never begun, and the ‘Excursion’ (with a fragment published in 1888), on which he worked at intervals from 1795 till its publication, represents the ‘Recluse.’ It marks the culmination of Wordsworth's poetical career. Jeffrey's famous phrase, ‘This will never do!’ (Edinburgh, November 1814) was really the protest of literary orthodoxy against a heresy the more offensive because it was growing in strength. Southey (Life, iv. 91), Keats, and Crabb Robinson now put Wordsworth by the side of Milton. Lamb was allowed by his old enemy Gifford (perhaps in remorse for a previous attack, see Southey's Life, v. 151) to review the poem in the ‘Quarterly,’ where, however, the article was cruelly mangled. Coleridge objected that the ‘Excursion’ did not fulfil his anticipations that the ‘Recluse’ was to be the ‘first and only true philosophical poem in existence’ (Letters, pp. 643−50); whereas the philosophy was still subordinate to the exposition of commonplace truths. The poem took its place as Wordsworth's masterpiece among the younger generation now growing up. Wordsworth gradually abandoned any thought of carrying out any larger design. The ‘White Doe of Rylstone’ (published in 1815) had been written in 1807−8, ‘Peter Bell’ and the ‘Waggoner’ (both published in 1819) in 1798 and 1805 respectively. ‘Peter Bell’ is said to have been his ‘most successful’