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ART. V. The Excursion; a Poem. By William Wordsworth.

London. 4to. pp. 447. THE

HE volume before us, as we learn from the Preface, is 'a de

tached portion of an untinished poem, containing views of man, nature, and society ;' to be called the Recluse, as having for its principal subject the "sensations and opinions of a poet living in retirement;' and to be preceded by a record in verse of the origin and

progress of the author's own powers, with reference to the fitness which they may be supposed to have conferred for the task.'

To the completion of this plan we look forward with a confidence which the execution of the finished part is well calculated to inspire.- Meanwhile, in what is before us there is ample matter for entertainment: for the Excursion' is not a branch (as might have been suspected) prematurely plucked from the parent tree to gratify an overhasty appetite for applause; but is, in itself, a complete and legitimate production. It

opens with the meeting of the poet with an aged man whom he had known from his school days; in plain words, a Scottish pedlar; a man who, though of low origin, had received good learning and impressions of the strictest piety from his stepfather, a minister and village schoolmaster. Among the hills of Athol, the child is described to have become familiar with the appearances of nature in his occupation as a feeder of sheep; and from her silent influences to have derived a character, meditative, tender, and poetical. With an imagination and feelings thus nourished—bis intellect not unaided by books, but those, few, and chiefly of a religious castthe necessity of seeking a maintenance in riper years, had induced him to make choice of a profession, the appellation for which has been gradually declining into contempt, but which formerly designated a class of men, who, journeying in country places, when roads presented less facilities for travelling, and the intercourse between towns and villages was unfrequent and hazardous, became á sort of link of neighbourhood to distant habitations; resembling, in some small measure, in the effects of their periodical returns, the caravan which Thomson so feelingly describes as blessing the cheerless Siberian in its annual visitation, with news of human kird.'

In the solitude incident to this rambling life, power had been given him to keep alive that devotedness to nature which he had imbibed in his childhood, together with the opportunity of gaining such notices of persons and things from his intercourse with society, as qualified him to become a ' teacher of moral wisdom.' With this man, then, in a hale old age, released from the burthen of his occupation, yet retaining much of its active habits, the poet meets, and is by him introduced to a second character-a scepticone who had been partially roused from an overwhelming desolation, brought upon him by the loss of wife and children, by the powerful incitement of hope which the French Revolution in its commencement put forth, but who, disgusted with the failure of all its promises, had fallen back into a laxity of faith and conduct which induced at length a total despondence as to the dignity and final destination of bis species. In the language of the poet, he

occupation, peered * With party-coloured plumes, and purple bill,

-broke faith with those whom he had laid

In earth's dark chambers. Yet he describes himself as subject to compunctious visitations from that silent quarter.

-Feebly must they have felt,
Who, in old time, attired with snakes and whips
The vengeful Furies. Beautiful regards
Were turned on me--the face of her I loved ;
The wife and mother; pitifully fixing

Tender reproaches, insupportable !-p. 133. The conversations with this person, in which the Wanderer asserts the consolatory side of the question against the darker views of human life maintained by his friend, and finally calls to his assistance the experience of a village priest, the third, or rather fourth interlocutor, (for the poet himself is one,) form the groundwork of the Excursion.'

It will be seen by this sketch that the poem is of a didactic nature, and not a fable or story; yet it is not wanting in stories of the most interesting kind,--such as the lovers of Cowper and Goldsmith will recognise as something familiar and congenial to them. We might instance the Ruined Cottage, and the Solitary's own story, in the first half of the work; and the second half, as being almost a continued cluster of narration. But the prevailing charm of the poem is, perhaps, that, conversational as it is in its plan, the dialogue throughout is carried on in the very heart of the most romantic scenery which the poet's native hills could supply; and which, by the perpetual references made to it either in the way of illustration or for variety and pleasurable description's sake, is brought before us as we read. We breathe in the fresh air, as we do while reading Walton's Complete Angler; only the country about us is as much bolder than Walton's, as the thoughts and speculations, which form the matter of the poem, exceed the trifling pastime and low-pitched conversation of his humble fishermen. We give the description of the two huge peaks,' which from some other vale G 3

peered into that in which the Solitary is entertaining the poet and companion. Those,' says their host,

-if here you dwelt, would be
Your prized companions. Many are the notes
Which in his tuneful course the wind draws forth
From rocks, woods, caverns, heaths, and dasbing shores;
And well those lofty brethren bear their part
In the wild concert: chiefly when the storm
Rides high ; then all the upper air they fill
With roaring sound, that ceases not to flow,
Like smoke, along the level of the blast
In mighty current; theirs, too, is the song
Of stream and headlong food that seldom fails ;
And in the grim and breathless hour of noon,
Methinks that I have heard them echo back
The thunder's greeting: nor have Nature's laws
Left them ungifted with a power to yield
Music of finer frame; a harmony,
So do I call it, though it be the hand
Of silence, though there be no voice; the clouds,
The mist, the shadows, light of golden suns,
Motions of moonlight, all come thither-touch,
And have an answer- -thither come, and shape
A language not unwelcome to sick hearts,
And idle spirits: there the sun himself
At the calm close of summer's longest day
Rests his substantial orb;-between those heights,
And on the top of either pinnacle,
More keenly than elsewhere in night's blue vault,
Sparkle the stars as of their station proud.
Thoughts are not busier in the mind of man,
Than the mute agents stirring there :-alone

Here do I sit and watch.p. 84. To a mind constituted like that of Mr. Wordsworth, the stream, the torrent, and the stirring leaf—seem not merely to suggest associations of deity, but to be a kind of speaking communication with it. He walks through every forest, as through some Dodona; and every bird that fits among the leaves, like that miraculous one in Tasso, but in language more intelligent, reveals to him far higher love-lays. In his poetry nothing in Nature is dead. Motion is synonymous with life. ' Beside yon spring,' says the Wanderer, speaking of a deserted well, from which, in former times, a poor woman, who died heart-broken, had been used to dispense refreshment to the thirsty traveller,

A wondrous bird among the rest there flew,
That in plain speech sung love-lays loud and shrill ;
Her leden was like human language true;
So much she talk'd, and with such wit and skill,
That strange it seemed how much good she knew.

Fairfax's Translation.

beside yon spring I stood,
And eyed its waters, till we seem'd to feel
One sadness, they and I. For them a bond
Of brotherhood is broken : time has been
When every day the touch of human hand
Dislodged the natural sleep that binds them up

In mortal stillness. p. 27. To such a mind, we say-call it strength or weakness—if weakness, assuredly a fortunate one—the visible and audible things of Creation present, not dim symbols, or curious emblems, which they have done at all times to those who have been gifted with the poetical faculty; but revelations and quick insights into the life within us, the pledge of immortality :

-the whispering air
Sends inspiration from her shadowy heights,
And blind recesses of the cavern'd rocks:
The little rills, and waters numberless,

Inaudible by day-light. I have seen,' the poet says, and the illustration is an happy one :

- I have seen
A curious child, applying to his ear
The convolutions of a smooth-lipp'd shell
To which, in silence hush'd, his very soul
Listen'd intensely, and his countenance soon
Brighten’d with joy; for murmurings from within
Were heard-sonorous cadences! whereby,
To his belief, the monitor express'd
Mysterious union with its native sea.
Even such a shell the universe itself
Is to the ear of faith; and doth impart
Authentic tidings of invisible things :
Of ebb and flow, and ever during power;
And central peace subsisting at the heart

Of endless agitation.-p. 191. Sometimes this harmony is imaged to us by an echo; and in one instance, it is with such transcendant beauty set forth by a shadow and its corresponding substance, that it would be a sin to cheat our readers at once of so happy an illustration of the poet's system, and so fair a proof of his descriptive powers.

Thus

Thus having reached a bridge that over-arched
The hasty rivulet where it lay becalmed
In a deep pool, by happy chance we saw
A two-fold image ; on a grassy bank
A snow-white ram, and in the chrystal food
Another and the same! most beautiful,
On the green turf, with his imperial front,
Shaggy and bold, and wreathed horns superb,
The breathing creature stood; as beautiful,
Beneath him, shewed his shadowy counterpart.
Each had his glowing mountains, each his sky,
And each seemed centre of his own fair world ;
Antipodes unconscious of each other,
Yet, in partition, with their several spheres,

Blended in perfect stillness, to our sight!-p. 407. Combinations, it is confessed, like those reflected in that quiet pool,' cannot be lasting : it is enough for the purpose of the poet, if they are felt.— They are at least his system; and his readers, if they reject them for their creed, may receive them merely as poetry. In him, faith, in friendly alliance and conjunction with the religion of his country, appears to have grown up, fostered by meditation and lonely communions with Nature-an internal principle of lofty consciousness, which stamps upon his opinions and sentiments (we were almost going to say) the character of an expanded and generous Quakerism.

From such a creed we should expect unusual results ; and, when applied to the purposes of consolation, more touching considerations than from the mouth of common teachers. The finest speculation of this sort perhaps in the poem before us, is the notion of the thoughts which may sustain the spirit, while they crush the frame of the sufferer, who from loss of objects of love by death, is commonly supposed to pine away under a broken heart.

If there be, whose tender frames have drooped
Even to the dust, apparently, through weight
Of anguish unrelieved, and lack of power
An agonising spirit to transmute,
Infer not hence a hope from those withheld

i
When wanted most; a confidence impaired
So pitiably, that, having ceased to see
With bodily eyes, they are borne down by love
Of what is lost, and perish through regret.
Oh! no, full oft the innocent sufferer sees
Too clearly ; feels too vividly; and longs
To realize the vision with intense
And over constant yearning ;--there, there lies
The excess, by which the balance is destroyed.

Too,

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