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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,
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
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,
beside yon spring I stood,
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
Inaudible by day-light. I have seen,' the poet says, and the illustration is an happy one :
- I have seen
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 having reached a bridge that over-arched
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