William Wordsworth: A Biography: The Early Years, 1770-1803

William Wordsworth: A Biography: The Early Years, 1770-1803

William Wordsworth: A Biography: The Early Years, 1770-1803

William Wordsworth: A Biography: The Early Years, 1770-1803

Excerpt

Wordsworth once desribed his poet's soul as

A Rock with torrents roaring, with the clouds Familiar, and a favourite of the stars.

To share, however imperfectly, in his life, has seemed to me indeed like treading a high mountain-range where precipices often block the path entirely, although we find, as he himself said, that someone has planted many of the crevices with flowers. Any poet's life must take us into high and dangerous places, though with some, as with Coleridge, poetry appears as only one among many activities and achievements, and where this is so a biographer may content himself with saying little about those cloud-familiar heights of poetry. But there are poets to whom poetry is their calling and their choice, and they desire to make it the whole business of their lives. This was preeminently so with John Keats, and also with Wordsworth. In middle life indeed, with a family to bring up, he was fain to become a Distributor of Stamps, and his interest in politics became embarrassingly keen. But no life of Wordsworth could be constructed out of these activities. His poetry is itself the chief justification for a biography: it is of the mind and soul of the author of Lyrical Ballads and Poems in Two Volumes and The Prelude and The Excursion that his biographer must write and that those who care for him will wish to read.

He has had plenty of critics and interpreters, and it does not appear that his poetry is in any danger of attracting less attention in this generation than in those that are past. Wordsworth is still necessary to us. Some of the critics have rightly made a biographical approach to his poetry; among them H. W. Garrod and the great editor, Ernest de Selincourt, who was also the biographer of Dorothy Wordsworth. Upon the whole, however, Wordsworth has been unfortunate in his biographers. His nephew, Christopher Wordsworth, who compiled Memoirs of William Wordsworth, Poet-Laureate, D.C.L., in 1850-1, accomplished a strictly limited task. He aimed simply at writing 'a biographical commentary' on his uncle's works, though he also . . .

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