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THE ENGLISH ASSOCIATION 

Pamphlet No. 57 







■■:i' 



^ Wordsworth's ^Prelude' 

■T By 

\ The Rt. Hon. Viscount Grey of Fallodon, K.G. 

f President, 1923 



■i' 



\ 



i 




December, 1923 



1 



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.g"' 



THE ENGLISH ASSOCIATION 



U 



Pamphlet No. 57 



Wordsworth's ^Prelude' 



By 

The Rt. Hon. Viscount Grey of Fallodon, K.G. 

President, 1923 



UNIVERSITY 
COLLEGE, 
LONDON. 



si 



December, 1923 




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. 



WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE 

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, 

a2 



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 
says : 

' . . . 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. 



V 



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 

spent : 

' 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.' 



1 



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 
of it: 

' ... 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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