THE ENGLISH ASSOCIATION
Pamphlet No. 57
^ Wordsworth's ^Prelude'
\ The Rt. Hon. Viscount Grey of Fallodon, K.G.
f President, 1923
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THE ENGLISH ASSOCIATION
Pamphlet No. 57
The Rt. Hon. Viscount Grey of Fallodon, K.G.
This pamphlet is the Presidential Address which was spoken by
the Right Hon. Viscount Grey of Fallodon, K.G., at the Annual
General Meeting on May 26.
Sir Arthur Acland said that the Committee had done him
a kindness in asking him to take the Chair this afternoon. Let me
add to that that the Committee have done me a kindness also in
asking Sir Arthur to take the Chair, for he is one of my oldest and
most valued friends. I am glad he gave you that touch of reminiscence
of Mr. Burt, one of the finest and rai-est spirits who ever sat in the
House of Commons, and I am fortified in my choice of a subject by
the memory recalled by Sir Arthur Acland of Mr. Burt's appreciation
of Wordsworth's Prelude. Nevertheless, I am not at all sure that
I have been wise in choosing that subject. I came to the conclusion,
in the course of preparation, that it had been unwise to embark on
the subject of The Prelude without confining and condensing my
thoughts within the limits of a written manuscript. But as I have
only an average verbal memory — that is to say a comparatively poor
one — I cannot repeat what I have written at any length, and as my
sight is much below the average, I cannot with ease read what I have
written. I have therefore to embark on the subject of The Prelude
without that help of the written manuscript, and I fear that I may
find the subject unmanageable. If so, I must ask for your for-
bearance. First of all, let me say, that like many lovers of
Wordsworth, I not only find The Prelude very interesting, but every
time I read it the interest to be found in it grows wider and deeper
and more intense, so that it ranks very high indeed in Wordsworth's
work. This estimate of The Prelude is by no means universal.
I once possessed — I am glad to say that I possess it no longer —
a copy of an edition of Wordsworth in one volume, in which I was
disappointed not to find The Prelude. On turning to the Preface
I found it stated that the volume contained all the poems of
Wordsworth which were of real value, and that the only omissions
were of poems such as The Prelude, which were by general consent
not up to the mark ; I have even found myself an object of pity to
at least one literary friend for reading The Excursion or The Prelude
at all. I once heard a distinguished man describe the speeches ,of
another man also distinguished, whose speeches were full of learning,
but more copious than inspiring, as being like a magnum of soda
water that had stood uncorked for a week. To some people,
4 WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE
I fear, The Prelude and Excursion appear dreary and flat. As
against their depreciation, I will read you an appreciation of The
Prelude from a very unexpected quarter — the words are these :
' When I came in after years to read The Prelude, I recognized, as if
it were my own history which was being told, the steps by which the
love of the country boy for his hills and moors grew into poetical
susceptibility for all imaginative presentations of beauty in ever}'
direction.' I think 1 might safely say that no man or woman
in this room, however great their literary knowledge, unless they
already know from whom that quotation comes, would guess the
author of it. It comes from one who was apt to depreciate rather
than appreciate many things about M'hich others were enthusiastic.
The words are those of Mark Pattison. You may set that unexpected
appreciation of The Prelude against much depreciation of it ; Mark
Pattison says here just what makes many of us feel Wordsworth
a special poet, the sense that in him we find our own experiences
reproduced. As we read him, we constantly find ourselves saying :
' I know that I have felt that.' And sometimes he reveals to us
y^ what we have not been previously conscious of, so that we say :
^ * I have felt that without knowing it.' \ Thus to those of us who
have the same sort of susceptibility that Wordsworth had to all
the aspects of natural beauty, his poetry becomes something not to
be measured merely by poetic merit, but something which reproduces,
interprets, and reveals to us our own experiences, and is therefore
not like something outside appealing to our admiration but like
something which is akin to us, part of ourselves, part of our lives.
Therefore, in speaking especially of The Prelude, I am not going
to talk of its poetic merit or speak of it as a poem, though it has
passages which seem to me of the highest poetical beautyj I want)
, to speak of it as wliat it really is, an autobiogra^iHyTX^ocument of
real authentic human interest. It begins with a description of
AVordsworth's childhood and schooltimes, and as you read on in
The Prelude you realize, or at least I realize, especially four things
V about Wordsworth : his extraordinary independence of spirit ; his
(presentment at any restraint ; his deep and unflinching love of liberty
^or himself and for the world ; and finally, his firm conviction that
y/ it is not through knowledge that we grow — unless that knowledge be
Hiccompanicd by feeling — that great, pure, exalted thoughts are due
not to knowledge, but to right and elevated feeling. Those four
things I find coming out again and again in The Prelude. First
\y take his childhood. His-jchildiiiiod^really was incredibly free. At
five years old, he_wa8_mjil<iji^'^ one long batliing of a summei-'^iUiy ''
WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE 5
in a small mill-race separated from the main stream. At ten years
old he was out half the night in the late Autumn or the early Winter,
alone on the hills, scudding from snare to snare, which he had set
for woodcocks, tJiking the woodcocks from his own snares and
sometimes taking those that were ntft in his snares but were caught
in the snares set by another boy. That act he knew was wrong ; he
tells us how the consciousness of wrongdoing wrought on him ; he
' . . . and when the deed was done
I heard among the solitary hills
Low breathings coming after me, and sounds
Of undistinguishable motion, steps
Almost as silent as the turf they trod.'
I will take one more passage parallel to that. Again he does some-
thing that he feels to be wrong. He finds a boat tied to a willow
tree on a moonlit night. He looses the boat and rows himself out
on to the lake in it. It was, he says, an act of stealth. As he
rowed, taking pride in his rowing, rising on his oars, he fixed his
eyes on a bare ridge above which was nothing visible but the sky ;
as he rowed farther, gradually there opened up the view of a
high, dark peak behind the ridge, and as he rowed on, the peak
grew in height until it seemed to be something great and immense
that was stalking after him. His conscience smote hini^ he took the
boat back to the willow tree and he went home, but after that his
conscience working in him, he was haunted by the vision he had seen
of the peak. In a passage, too long to quote in full, he tells what he
felt, and he ends with these words :
* . . . for many days my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense /-^ /-T»-£^/t^-^ ^
Of unknown modes of being ; a'er my thouglits ^ Z
Tliere_ jiung a dar kness^ gall it solitude c-^y^^.^.^ ..
Or_blanik_desertion. No faniiliaT'shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees.
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields ;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.'
I quote these passages to make this observation. You observe that on /i^
both occasions, he tl^oughtjnhmisell.that the acts he had done were ^
wrong. There is no trace that he felt any fear of being found out, ^*'^
no trace that he dreaded human censure or punishment by his
guardians or those who looked after him, or by any human agency ;
no trace of his caring for what others might think of his conduct.
o~^6 WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE
j^ \\j His own conscience finds the reproof in M-hat he thinks he sees in
J^ /the aspects of nature ; and so you will find throughout The Prelude
> \/ an almost abnormal indifference to human censure ; he is never
. depressed by blame nor elated by praise, but constantly worked
U|xjn by his susceptibility to the outward aspects of nature. In that
alone he found his education and discipline. He goes on to describe
various things in childhood — all examples of a wonderfully free life —
in M'ords that bring home to us the experience of our own boyhoods ;
things like his climbing cliffs for the raven's nest on a precipice so
steep that he seemed hardly to be supported by foothold or handhold,
but almost to be suspended in air ; and then he says :
* With M'hat strange utterance did the loud dry wind
Blow through my ear ! the sky seemed not a sky
Of earth — and with what motion moved the clouds ! *
Passages like that abound, and as you read on and turn the pages
i you see * Schooltime ' * Schooltime ' ^ Schooltime ' all through two
I books at the top of every page ; and in the text not a single mention
I of his once entering a school, having any lessons or teaching or
discipline, any rewards or any punishment, and he sums up at last
by a passage — again too long to quote — in which he says that he and
his companions loved sitting up late at night till all other lights were
-t)^-— out, scampering over the country in the daytime, leading a life of
Q^ shee r pleasure so far as we can judge from T}ie Prelude, innocent
y tj but uninterrupted perpetual pleasure : and then there is this other
Y V ^^' touch, that though he sat up with his companions late at night, he
^"^ • ^> would get up for his own pleasure early in the morning, sometimes
Yi>" going five miles around the lake before schooltime ; sometimes sitting
^ alone in the wood in the early morning, or on some promontory,
and then there came to him these feelings even as a boy, which we
find so constant in his poetrj' afterwards ; the feeling as if bodily
eyes were utterly forgotten. Finally comes this touching tribute
in blank verse to the place where the days of his childhood were
' Dear native Regions, wheresoe'er shall close
My mortal course, there will I think on you ;
Dying, will cast on you a backward look ;
Even as this setting sun (albeit the Vale
Is no where touched by one memorial gleam)
Doth with the fond remains of his last power
Still linger, and a farewell lustre sheds,
On the dear mountain-tops Mhere first he rose.'
\ I quote that because Wordsworth did what I have not known an
WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE 7
instance of another poet having done. He afterwards wrote it in
rhyme and published it separately, and I will give it to you from
memory as it is in that form :
' Dear native Regions, I foretell,
From what 1 feel at this farewell.
That, wheresoe'er my steps may tend.
And whensoever my course shall end.
If in that hour a single tie
Survive of local sympathy.
My soul will cast the backward view.
The longing look alone on you.
Thus, while the sun sinks down to rest,
Far in the regions of the West,
Though to the vale no parting beam
Be given, not one memorial gleam,
A lingering light he fondly throws
On the dear hills where first he rose/
You can read these two passages for yourselves, the one in blank
verse, and the other in rhyme, and consider at leisure which you
think the best of the two.
When Wordsworth parts from school, when his schooltime^
over, he pays a tribute, not as we mostly do to masters or to the
spirit of the school ; he says that he left school with his heart pure,
free from low desires, and that this was due to the country in which
he lived. ^ ^
Now I pass from his schooltime to his time at Cambridge. With
that independent spirit of his, he did not seem to find his entry into
the University formidable. /W^e, most of us, who have been to
Universities, in our first days or weeks have found the beginning
rather formidable. There is no trace that Wordsworth found it soJ
But he did not get much good out of the University, he says he felt ->^'^
that he ' was not for that time or for that place \ One splendid :
tribute he pays to the statue of Newton :
' Newton with his prism and silent face.
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought alone.'
A tribute he pays also to Milton,(but connected with the name of
Milton there is an incident in The Prelude of a lighter kind./ He
iSy drank-ywine in Milton's rooms with some friends, and he poured out
libations to that famous memory until his head grew dizzy with the ,
fumes of wine ; ,he is careful to tell us that this never happened ^
before or since. | About this incident I must relate the story of an
8 WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE
admirer of Wordsworth arguing with some one who did not admire
Wordsworth. The former found himself confronted with the argu-
ment that Wordsworth was a prig without any Uiitural weaknesses.
I suppose if he had known the phrase the critic would have said :
* Without one redeeming vice.' The admirer of Wordsworth in
defence said : 'Well, at any rate, he got drunk once.' * Yes,' said
the other, * I know he says so, but I am afraid his standard of
intoxicaijon was lamentably low.' I put that on record as a lighter
touchj Wordsworth proceeds to say in justice to Cambridge that if
he got little good from it, the fault was his own, and not that of
any one else, and, having thus satisfied his conscience by blaming
himself, he then goes on to say how unedifying he found the place.
He said of the Dons : ' They served to set our minds on edge and
did no more.' You can compare that with <j ! ib b ons' mor e~ftTppaTit
statement about his tutor at^-Oxford^^-^-He Tememi)ered he had a
salary to receive j lie -*n4y forgot h*^ ^^*^ a dpty t^ perform.' You
cannot read The Prelude without feeling that the strictures on the
University had at any rate some truth in them in those daySjfbiit let
rTne say at once that nothing of that kind is true to-day. If the
Universities of the eighteenth century were dead, it is true of them
j to-day that they are living parts of the nation, that those who are
most concerned in their teaching are most careful to keep in touch
with the political, economic, and social thought of the day, and
Oxford and Cambridge, with other Universities, are to-day living
_^arts of the nation's life^ Wordsworth closes his description of
Cambridge with an extraordinarily powerful passage describing what
he felt not only about those in authority, but about the under-
graduates as well :
' Idleness halting with his weary clog,
And jK)or misguided Shame, and witless Fear,
And simple Pleasure foraging for Death ;
Honour misplaced, and Dignity astray ;
Feuds, factions, flatteries, enmity, and guile.
Murmuring submission, and bald goverinnent,
(Tlie idol weak as the idolater),
And Decency and Custom starving Truth,
And blind Authority l)eating with his staff
The child that might have led him ; Emptiness
Followed as of good omen, and meek Worth
Left to herself unheard of and unknown.'
[ A^d «" hp p;irfs fr^ni rii,mb'-'''g^
I have now spent much time and I have not got beyond his
University life. 1 must pass over the part about his Summer vaca-
WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE 9
tion, although it has that very important and interesting passage in it
where, in the presence of a splendid sunrise, alone after a night of
revelry, he feels that he is ever afterwards to be a dedicated spirit, and
having said that and described that experience, he says :
' ... on I walked
in thankful blessedness, which yet survives.'
I want you to notice those last three words : ' which yet survives.'
The Prelude was written not in extreme youth but when he was in
the thirties, in the prime of his poetic gifts and power, and that
emotion of his early youth still survived. Most of us have these
moments of great emotion under peculiarly favourable conditions of
outward circumstance. We all recognize, or at least most of us
must recognize having felt amongst particularly grand or beautiful
aspects of nature what Wordsworth felt on the occasion of that
memorable sunrise ; but with most of us the emotions are like
a breeze upon a lake, making its ripple at the time and then leaving
the lake as it was before. With most of us, it is not so much that
we are incapable of these great moments of great emotions as that
they are, as far as we are concerned, rather like writing in water.
Wjth^WordsseQrthit was not so. They lasted. The substance of
which he was made was something so tenacious, that when these
great moments of emotion came, they wrote indelibly upon his
personality ; their effect was cumulative, they built him up and made
him the ^reat poet that he was, and those words ' which yet survives '
would apply no doubt to many of those great moments in his life.
It seems to me that one of the special characteristics of Wordsworth
in his youth was this combination of ^treme susceptibility with great
tenacity. That was a quality in Wordsworth which I think accounts
for very nmch of the poetic excellence of what he wrote and for the
power which his poetry has. f—-^
I come now to the next book, which is headed r Books '] and I would
observe two points about it, which are: (1) that hestates absolutely
and without qualification that for the young there should be complete
liberty in reading ; there should be no restraint upon their choice of
books. I know that this must be a very controversial subject;
personally, I side with Wordsworth. He takes the homely simile of
a hen with her chickens, and he applies that to the supervision over
the reading of the young. He says :
* Behold the parent hen amid her brood ;
Yet doth she little more
Than move with them in tenderness and love.'
10 WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE
I would observe however on this simile that, although it is absolutely
true to the life of what some birds do, or appear to do as regards
their young, when the young are able to feed themselves, the mother
bird does lead the young where the best food is to be found, and
I think a fair summary of Wordsworth's view of reading for young
people is that they should be put in the way of the best literature,
and should then be left to choose for themselves what they like best ;
(2) the other point is that knowledge got from reading will not do us
good unless it produces real feeling ; that emotion must accompany
knowledge. He pays a great tribute to what he owed to books, but
he says he got from them knowledge with continually increasing joy,
* knowledge not purchased with the lack of power ', and he has a long
passage, and an exceedingly good one, in which he expresses his scorn
of the prig who reads merely in order to acquire knowledge without
thereby growing in feeling and sensitiveness. Here are a few lines
' ... he sifts, he weighs ;
All things are put to question ; he must live
Knowing that he grows wiser every day
Or else not live at all, and seeing too
Each little drop of wisdom as it falls
Into the dimpling cistern of his heart:
For this unnatural growth the trainer blame,
Pity the tree. — Poor human vanity,
Wert thou extinguished, little would be left
Which he could truly love ; . . .'
And then comes a burst of enthusiasm and contrast at the end :
* Oh ! give us once again the wishing-cap
Of Fortunatus, and the invisible coat
Of Jack the Giant-Killer, Robin Hood,
And Sabra in the forest with St. George !
The child whose love is here, at least, doth reap
One precious gain, that he forgets himself.' ,
Well, that has wisdom in it for all of us who are in search either of
knowledge or pleasure. We get neither in their highest form unless
we seek them in such a way, with such enthusiasm, with such feeling
that we forget ourselves. It is true we find ourselves thereby, but we
find ourselves by forgetting ourselves. That inability to forget one's
self stands more almost than anything else in the way of the use
people make of knowledge or of gifts, and stands often in their way
even when they are trying to find pleasure. I think one of the saddest
things, as you reflect on the history of the world, is the mischief
which has been done, the opportunities which have been missed, by
WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE 11
men with great powers in great place being unable to forget them-
selves. It is a natural failing. The greater a man's powers, the
more difficult it is for him to forget himself, and it is only when you
come to the very great men of the world, whose greatness of soul and
strength of moral purpose were greater even than their great powers,
that you find the men, who in public affairs have had great oppor-
tunities and risen to the full height of them and done all they might
for the world. The ending of that passage :
^ . . . doth reap
One precious gain, that he forgets himself
is one of far-reaching wisdom and interest.
Now I must pass on to another part of The Prelude altogether, for
I must, before I finish, say something about Wordsworth's experience
in the French Revolution. It had a remarkable effect upon him as
a young man, and no study of Wordsworth's life, no appreciation of
his work can be thoroughly intelligent without reading carefully that
record, which we find given directly in The Prelude and indirectly in
The Excursion, of his experiences in France. He first went to France
on his way to the Alps. At that time the States General had been
summoned, and though the Monarchy had not been abolished, there
was a belief throughout France that the day of Liberty had come,
and that the old bad times were past, and the description Wordsworth
gives of the rapture manifest in the whole country is very powerful
and very touching. He says :
'France standing on the top of golden hours, (H
And human nature seeming born again.j
Lightly equipped, and but a few brief looks
Cast on the white cliffs of our native shore
From the receding vessel's deck, we chanced
To land at Calais on the very eve
Of that great federal day ; and there we saw.
In a mean city, and among a few.
How bright a face is worn when joy of one
Is joy for tens of millions. Southward thence
We held our way, direct through hamlets, towns.
Gaudy with reliques of that festival.
Flowers left to wither on triumphal arcs.
And window-garlands. On the public roads,
And, once, three days successively, through paths
By which our toilsome journey was abridged.
Among sequestered villages we walked
And found benevolence and blessedness
Spread like a fragrance everywhere, when Spring
Hath left no corner of the land untouched ; . . .'
12 WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE
' War shall cease ; did ye not hear that conc|ue8t is abjured ? ' the
peasants say to him, and we realize what a fair face the dawn of the
French Revolution had. I recalled this description when I was at
the Foreign Office at the time of the Young Turk Revolution. We
had reports then of people belonging to different races between whom
there had been bitter einnity, now greeting each other as brothers, and
in a still shorter time than in the French Revolution, things went back,
not to the same despotism of Abdul Hamid, but to one worse, if possible,
than that before. What happened in the beginning of the Russian
Revolution I do not know so well, because I was not in office at the
time. As we read the description in Wordsworth of the beginning
of the French Revolution, we realize all that he felt and all that the
young literary spirits of the day felt about it. They felt that man
was naturally a being intended for good, and of great dignity ; that
he had been kept back by the barriers of an old system ; that the
Revolution had swept away these old barriers, and that man for the
first time in civilized history was going to be free, to advance towards
what was his natural heritage, to what he deserved, and to what was
liis right. You must read carefully to realize the natural enthusiasm
that Wordsworth and others like him felt. Then came the beginning
of bloodshed and violence. Wordsworth did not ignore that, and its
incidents he called
* Ephemeral monsters, to be seen but once !
Things that could only show themselves and die',
but when he found England going to war with France, while he
thought that in France was the fairest hope, indeed the whole hope,
and the promise of human liberty and happiness, he felt it hitlerly.
He described his feelings in a stern passage where he says that if he •
went to church and heard prayers for the victories of the British
Forces, he felt as if he were sitting there Mike an uninvited guest'
whom no one owned, and instead of praying for the success of the
British Forces, he ' fed on the day of vengeance yet to come'. Such
was his love of liberty, such was his feeling when he saw England in
arms against France, and when he thought that Liberty was on the
side of France ; but when France became the aggressor, when he
became convinced later on that the cause of Liberty was with his
own country and the cause of the aggressor and despotism was with
France, then he produced that strong, patriotic war poetry which
during the last war my friend. Sir Arthur Acland, collected into a
volume, and which was no doubt read by many people and gave them,
through the distress of war, something of that strength of spirit with
WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE 13
which Wordsworth went through the distress of the Napoleonic wars.
When France became an aggressor, and exhibited the horrors of
the Terror, nothing could surpass the bitter disappointment that
Wordsworth felt. His disappointment was great in proportion as
his hopes had been high ; he gives a powerful description of the
distress of mind and the despair through which he went. At one
time lie says he * yielded up all moral questions in despair ', yet he
never doubted what the real cause of the French Revolution was ;
nothing could shake his moral judgement about that. When other
people were pointing to all these horrors and saying :
^ Behold the harvest that we reap
From popular government and equality,'
Wordsworth, in spite of his distress, says :
' I clearly saw that neither these nor aught
Of wild belief engrafted on their names
By false philosophy had caused the woe.
But a terrific reservoir of guilt
And ignorance filled up from age to age,
That could no longer hold its loathsome charge.
But burst and spread in deluge through the land.'
And when he saw Europe beginning to attack the French Revolution,
and attempting to put it down, and to re-establish the Monarchy,
though he was not blind to the violence and the bloodshed of those
who were then in power in France, he says :
' In France, the men, who for their desperate ends.
Had plucked up mercy by the roots, were glad
Of this new enemy. Tyrants, strong before
In wicked pleas, were strong as demons now.'
Thus he pronounced a wise political judgement upon the un- wisdom
of interfering with the Revolution from outside. In the whole of
Wordsworth's account of the Revolution, there is nothing with more
insight than this wise political judgement; there is deep political
wisdom in it for all similar occurrences, and if these words,
* . . . the men, who for their desperate ends.
Had plucked up mercy by the roots, were glad
Of this new enemy . . . '
whenever a great Revolution takes place in a foreign country, were
hung on the walls of rooms where Cabinets meet, we might have
been saved, and the French Government with us, from the mistake
of spending millions in trying to crush the Bolshevist Revolution in
Russia. The Bolshevists were the men who * plucked up mercy by
14 WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE
the roots ' in Russia. Wordsworth would not have been more sparing
in his condemnation of them than he was in his condemnation of the
Jacobins, but we might have remembered from these great events
that in such times interference from outside has, as a consequence,
results directly the opposite to what it is intended and hoped. As it
was in the French Revolution, so it has been in the Russian Revolu-
tion. Finally, when Wordsworth 'yielded up all moral questions in
despair', and this is my last point, to illustrate one more great
characteristic of Wordsworth — he does not sit down under that
despair. W^hatever depression he goes through, he never ends the
/ poem until he has found the thought which sets him on his feet,
upright, above depression. You find it in poem after poem. How-
ever great the depression, and it was at times as great as ever poet
had, he never rests until he has found the point of view and the
thought in which he can be strong again ; where, instead of being
a pessimist, he can be hopeful, sanguine, certain as regards the
future. Thus in his depression in the French Revolution, he finds
hope at last, and finds it through the help of his sister Dorothy
Wordsworth, who leads him back to the influence of nature. I will
give this quotation^ coming after he had * yielded up moral questions
in despair ' :
' She whispered still that brightness would return ;
She, in the midst of all, preserved me still
A poet, made me seek beneath that name.
And that alone, my office upon earth ;
And, lastly, as hereafter will be shown.
If willing audience fail not, Nature's self.
By all varieties of human love
Assisted, led me back through opening day
To those sweet counsels between head and heart
Whence grew that genuine knowledge, fraught with peace.
Which, through the later sinkings of this cause.
Hath still upheld me, and upholds me now.'
And there he gets strength again with the help of his sister, by his
susceptibility to the influences of nature. It is in that susceptibility
y to the influences of nature that the greatest strength of his poetry
lies. I have read somewhere that when W^ordsworth writes :
* One impulse from a vernal wood,
^ May teach you more of man,
.\^ Of moral evil and of good.
Than all the sages can',
we must not take him seriously, for the impulse of the vernal wood
WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE 15
can teach us nothing. But this in truth is the very root of Words-
worth's own growth and education. Without the impulse from the
vernal wood he would not have written his poetry, without that and
many other impulses akin to it. This does not mean that the vernal
wood consciously taught him, it means that looking on the vernal
wood he was raised to heights of sensitive feeling without which \'
he would not have had the great thoughts that inspired his poetry.
It is that susceptibility to outward nature that Wordsworth had in
a supreme degree, which draws all those who have it, even in less
degree, to his poetry and makes them satisfied. Reverence, pure
delight, tenderness, love, these things he felt because the aspects of
nature, their beauty, and their grandeur had inspired these feelings in
him. To those of us who love Wordsworth, those moods, those
exalted moods, which he had luider the influence of natural beauty,
though we may not have them so intensely or so often as he had
them, are well known, as something which we recognize in our own
experience. Simple lines of Wordsworth, for instance: 'and that
still spirit shed from evening air ^, ' motions of delight that haunt
the sides of the green hills ', ' The silence that is in the starry sky ;
the sleep that is among the lonely iiills '. Even such a simple line as :
* Here are we in a bright and breathing world ' stir us to a mood like
his own. To those who are familiar with Wordsworth a single line
may be sufficient to bring us under that sweet influence, that powerful
influence of the beauty of outward nature which gives us some of the
best moods in our life. One of the greatest gifts that man can have
is to be able to get such moods ; as Wordsworth calls :
* That serene and blessed mood.
In which the affections gently lead us on.
Until the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul :
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy.
We see into the life of things.'
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