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activities of the outer world, he spent the greater part of his life in daily companionship with Nature. He became the poet of what Lowell has called “Wordsworthshire.”
Preparation. — Wordsworth's more regular education was obtained at a school in the quaint village of Hawkshead on Esthwaite Water. Later he went to Cambridge; but the fixed routine of college studies failed to touch his enthusiasm. He graduated in 1791, but, as may be supposed, without having distinguished himself. On leaving Cambridge, he spent some months in visiting London and elsewhere, finally crossing to France, where he caught the contagion of Republicanism, and was on the point of offering himself as a leader in the Revolution. His relatives, alarmed for his safety, stopped his supplies; and in 1792, lack of money compelled his return. On reaching England he was without a profession and had no definite prospects. But after three years in this unsettled condition, he was made comparatively independent by a legacy of £900 from a friend. Shortly before this he had made his first ventures in poetry — An Evening Walk (1793); Descriptive Sketches (1793). In 1796 he took a cottage at Racedown in Dorsetshire with his devoted sister Dorothy, who became one of the great influences in his life, and he resolved to dedicate himself to poetry.
Fulfilment. From this time, Wordsworth’s life was of the most studiously simple, severe, and uneventful description, an example of that "plain living and high thinking” in which he believed. It was lived close to Nature, in the circle of deep home attachments, and in the society of a few chosen friends; but it resembled that of Milton in its solemn consecration to the high service of his art, and in its consistent nobility and loftiness of
tone. Leaving Racedown in 1797, Wordsworth settled at Alfoxden, near Nether Stowey, Somersetshire, where his genius developed rapidly under the stimulating companionship of his friend Coleridge. Here the two poets worked together, and in 1798 published the Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems to which each contributed.
This work, by its deliberate departure from the outworn poetic manner, marks an era in the history of English poetry.
After this, Wordsworth worked steadily, holding to his own notions of poetry in spite of the ridicule of the critics and the neglect of the body of readers. In the winter of 1798–1799 he visited Germany. On his return, he settled in the Lake District, living first in
Dove Cottage, Grasmere (1799-1813), and finally removing to Rydal Mount. In 1802 he married his cousin Mary Hutchinson, also a native of Cumberland. Miss Hutchinson, like Wordsworth's sister Dorothy, had a rare appreciation of poetry. He had thus the devotion and sympathy of two gifted women, both capable of entering into his finest emotions and aspirations. The poet, his wife and sister, thus lived in an ideal and beautiful companionship, unfortunately but too rare in the lives of men of genius. Wordsworth's remaining years were passed at Rydal Mount, except when his tranquil existence was broken by short journeys on the Continent and elsewhere. As he advanced in life, his work won its way in the public favor. He was made Poet Laureate in 1843, and died peacefully April 23, 1850.
As Poet. - As a poet Wordsworth was surpassingly great within that somewhat restricted sphere which he has made peculiarly his own. He is deficient in a sense of humor, he possesses but little dramatic force or narrative skill, and he fails in a broad and living sympathy with the diverse passions and interests of human life. Yet he is as truly the poet of the mysterious world we call Nature, as Shakespeare is the poet of the life of man. He, more than all other poets, teaches us to enter into that world and find in it the very temple of God, in which and through which He himself will draw close to us.
View of Nature. At first Wordsworth looked upon Nature with a kind of primitive and unreasoning rapture; Nature then to him was “all in all.”
“The sounding cataract
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
But that time passed, and he came to look upon Nature as a living presence that could mold and raise the life of man.
He found that she could
This is Wordsworth's transcendentalism. Nature is not to him mere vegetation, subject to the law of growth and decay, nor a collection of objects to be described, but a manifestation of God, of the Universal Spirit which is in and about man. When looking at the forms and colors of Nature he says
I have felt
To Wordsworth, the Universe is not a mechanical contrivance, like a huge piece of clockwork, whose motive power is law, but a something divinely alive. He
believed that the secret of life is to hold fast youth's generous emotions, its high. imaginings, its deep fountains of joy, as an antidote to the deadening and contaminating influences of the world. To see again in age some aspect of Nature which sank deep into the soul of youth, and which will
"... flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude'
to hear again in age that cry of the cuckoo which enchanted us in boyhood, is to revive our youthful rapture, and "beget that golden time again.” Thus a "natural piety," binding our days each to each, should protect us against the contagion of the world.
Its Limitations. — Wordsworth celebrates the beauty, harmony, and sublimity of Nature; he is fortified by its calm and its unbroken order. But Nature is not all a May day; she has a harsh and terrifying side, of which Wordsworth was apparently oblivious. He is silent as to her mysterious discords of pain, cruelty, and death. So far as we can tell, he is unimpressed by any feeling of her magnificent indifference to man. To this extent his poetry of Nature is partial and incomplete. Nevertheless, in this very incompleteness lies one source of Wordsworth's tranquilizing and “healing" power. We are refreshed and satisfied by the very strength of his conviction that the whole world is but the temple of the living God. Of all the poets who in the eighteenth century came to lead a rouged and tired generation of intrigue and scandal back to that mother-world to which they had become as strangers, Wordsworth proved himself the greatest and most inspired guide. The murmur of the Derwent, the clouds gathered about the setting sun, the splendors of lonely dawns, the solitude