A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Twenty-four
WORDSWORTH AND COLERIDGE: EARLY POEMS AND LYRICAL BALLADS1

THE British Public took a long time to make up its mind whether the imposing appearance called Wordsworth was a mountain or a cloud: it was convinced at last that he was a mountain, the most massive in that lofty range which we call the Romantic Revival. William Wordsworth ( 1770-1850) was born at Cockermouth, where his father was an attorney. He was educated at the little old public school of Hawkshead in the heart of the Lake District. The boys boarded in the village, and after school-hours were as free as air. These years at Hawkshead were the first great formative period in his life; the second was the year he spent in France. In his boyhood the remoter Dales were still "an almost visionary republic" of peasant proprietors, and a sense of human equality still survived between masters and men. At Cambridge he found another kind of republic, where all were equal as scholars and gentlemen. Thus his mind was ready soil for the ideas of the French Revolution. It was not the French Revolution, however, that first inspired his Muse, but the "dear native regions" to which he vowed lifelong fealty in schoolboy verse.

As a schoolboy, Wordsworth was much like his hardy, north- country classmates, except for one peculiarity, which he probably kept to himself: he was prone at times to strange trances, in which the external world seemed to melt, as it were, into his soul, become "a dream and prospect of the mind," so that he had to grasp some solid object to assure himself that anything existed outside him. At the time he read no special meaning into these trances, of which, in fact, he was at first afraid.

In his boyhood, strictly so called, Nature was simply his playground; if she stirred any deeper emotion in him, it was only in

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1
Some expressions in Chapters Twenty-four and Twenty-five are taken from Dr. Smith Study of Wordsworth, by permission of Messrs. Oliver & Boyd.

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