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SOUTHEY'S PROSE WORKS.

451

(1st vol. 1810); Lives of John Wesley, Chatterton, Kirke White, and Cowper ; a History of the Peninsular War (1st vol. 1823); Colloquies on Society (1829), a strange and not over-wise book, giving an account of conversations between Montesinos (Southey himself) and the ghost of Sir Thomas More, who visits him at Keswick; Lives of the British Admirals for Lardner's “Cyclopædia" (1833); and The Doctor (1834), stand out prominently amid a host of articles for the Quarterly, and occasional papers on almost every subject, which filled up the idle hours of this most indefatigable author. Like Johnson he was living from “ hand to mouth,” until a pension placed him above the fear of want; but he could not then give up the habits of incessant study and literary toil, which had grown to be his second nature. He was never so happy as when he sat amid his books, pen in hand, adding newly-written sheets to the pile of manuscript already lying in his copy-drawer.

A VOYAGE THROUGH THE SKY.

(FROM KEHAMA.")
Then in the ship of heaven Ereenia laid

The waking, wondering maid ;
The ship of heaven, instinct with thought, displayed
Its living sail, and glides along the sky.

On either side, in wavy tide,
The clouds of morn along its path divide ;
The winds that swept in wild career on high
Before its presence check their charmed force ;
The winds that loitering lagged along their course

Around the living bark enamoured play,
Swell underneath the sail, and sing before its way.

That bark, in shape, was like the furrowed shell
Wherein the sea-nymphs to their parent-king,
On festal day, their duteous offerings bring.

Its huel-Go watch the last green light
Ere evening yields the western star to night;
Or fix upon the sun thy strenuous sight
Till thou hast reached its orb of chrysolite.

The sail, from end to end displayed,
Bent, like a rainbow, o'er the maid.

452

SPECIMEN OF SOUTHEY'S VERSE

An angel's head, with visual eye,
Through trackless space directs its chosen way;

Nor aid of wing, nor foot, nor fin,
Requires to voyage o'er the obedient sky.
Smooth as the swan when not a breeze at even

Disturbs the surface of the silver stream,
Through air and sunshine sails the ship of heaven.
Recumbent there the maiden glides along

On her aërial way,
How swift she feels not, though the swiftest wind

Had flagged in flight behind.
Motionless as a sleeping babe she lay,

And all serene in mind,
feeling no fear; for that ethereal air
With such new life and joyance filled her heart,

Fear could not enter there;
Por sure she deemed her mortal part was o'er,
And she was sailing to the heavenly shore;
And that angelic form, who moved beside,
Was some good spirit sent to be her guide.

Through air and sunshine sails the ship of heaven;

Far, far beneath them lies
The gross and heavy atmosphere of earth;

And with the Swerga gales

The maid of mortal birth
At every breath a new delight inhales.
And now toward its port the ship of heaven
Swift as a falling meteor shapes its flight,
Yet gently as the dews of night that gem
And do not bend the bare-bell's slenderest stem.
Daughter of earth, Ereenia cried, alight;
This is thy place of rest, the Swerga this,-

Lo, here my bower of bliss !
He furled his azure wings, which round him fold

Graceful as robes of Grecian chief of old.
The happy Kailyal knew not where to gaze;

Her eyes around in joyful wonder roam,
Now turned upon the lovely Glendoveer,

Now on his heavenly home.

Ttile LAKE SCHOOL OF POETIRY. 453

CHAPTER IV.

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH,

Born 1770 A.D.......... Died 1850 A.D., The Lake School. Coleridge. Works of later years. Wordsworth's style. By the Lakes. Some minor poems. Early life. Rydal Mount. His last years. His maiden work. The Excursion. Illustrative extract.

WoRDsworth was the great master of the Lake School,” in which Coleridge and Southey were also prominent members. Choosing the simplest speech of educated Englishmen as a vehicle for the expression of their thoughts, and passing by with quiet scorn the used-up subjects of the Romancists—the military hero waving his red sword amid battle smoke; the assassin watching from the dark shadow of a vaulted doorway his unconscious victim, who strolls, singing in the white moonlight, down the empty street; the lover, “sighing like furnace with a woeful ballad made to his mistress's eyebrow,” and kindred themes—the poets of the Lake School took their subjects often from among the commonest things, and wrote their poems in the simplest style. Bending a reverent ear to the mysterious harmonies of nature, to the ceaseless song of praise that rises from every blade of grass and every dewdrop, warbles in the fluting of every lark, and sweeps to heaven in every wave of air, they found in their own deep hearts a musical echo of that song, and shaping into words the swelling of their inward faith, they spoke to the world in a way to which the world was little used, about things in which the world saw no poetic beauty. The history of a hard-hearted hawker of earthenware and his ass, the adventures of Betty Foy's idiot son, and

* The Lake School derived its name from the fact that its three most conspicuous members, Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge, lived chiefly by the English lakes. Originally a contemptuous name, it has gradually come to be the recognised title of Wordsworth and his disciples.

454

THE LANGUAGE OF WORDSWORTH.

the wanderings of an old pedler, are among the themes chosen by Wordsworth for the utterance of his poetic soul. As of old the Puritans had done in political and domestic life, the Lakists went too far in their disdain for the conventional ornaments and subjects of poetry. But their theory, a healthful one, based on sound principles, made an impression on the British mind deeper and more lasting than many think. Like that ozone or electrified oxygen in the natural air, upon which, say chemists, our health and spirits depend, its subtle influence is ever stealing through the atmosphere of our national thought, quickening the scattered germs of a truer and purer poetic philosophy than has yet prevailed. As all advocates of a new theory are apt to do, Wordsworth ran at first into an almost ridiculous extreme of simplicity, both in the selection of his subjects and his treatment of them. His ballads, on their first publication, raised a perfect storm of disdainful laughter among the critics of the day,-laughter which he heard serenely, conscious that he was right in the main, and that time alone was needed to insure the triumph of his views. But here it must be remembered, that the language in which his highest thoughts found their fitting expression is not by any means a common-place language. When telling the tale of Johnny Foy, the idiot who stayed out all night, he may properly enough descend to humble strains like these :

And now she's at the doctor's door,

She lifts the knocker, rap, rap, rap
The doctor at the casement shows
His glimmering eyes that peep and doze !
And one hand rubs his old night-cap."

But when higher themes attract his pen, as, for example, in that noble simile, among the finest our poetry contains,

“ I have seen
A curious child, who dwelt upon a tract
Of inland ground, applying to his ear
The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell,
To which, in silence hushed, his very soul
Listened intensely: and his countenance sioon

worDSworth's EARLY LIFE. 455

Brightened with joy; for, murmuring from within, Were heard sonorous cadences, whereby, To his belief, the monitor expressed Mysterious union with its native sea: Even such a shell the universe itself Is to the ear of Faith,”— his style is elevated far above the level of our common speech, as a poetic style must always be, that takes its tone and colour from the lofty thoughts which it embodies. Wordsworth, an attorney's son, was born on the 7th of April 1770, at Cockermouth in Cumberland. Both father and mother died while he was yet a boy; and when his school education was considered, by the uncle under whose guardianship he passed, to be sufficiently advanced, he was sent in 1787 to St. John's College, Cambridge. There, during the four years of his undergraduate course, he read a good deal, studied Italian, wrote poetry, and, when the welcomed vacations released him from what he considered to be an irksome and narrow course of study, went upon various tours—that in the autumn of 1790 being directed to France and Switzerland, although the tempest of Revolution was then raging with great fury. In the following year, having graduated, he went again to France, with a soul on fire in her cause. There he stayed for fifteen months, and there he might have perished by the guillotine in the growing ardour of his sympathy for the Girondists, had not his return to England in 1792 changed the current of his life. His friends wished him to enter the Church; but he was born to be a poet and nothing else. The love of poetry was the grand passion of his heart, gaining strength as the flame of republicanism wasted and died with the coming of maturer years. In 1793 appeared a modest book of descriptive verse, 1793 containing two poems in the heroic couplet, entitled An A.D. Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches of walks among the Alps. This maiden appearance of the poet Wordsworth revealed to thinking minds the rise of a new star, destined to shed a brilliant lustre on the land. Coleridge, a kindred spirit, was especially struck with the merit of the work.

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