Wordsworth's Philosophical Faith
The celebration of centenaries is a growing fashion, and in general it may be welcomed. For a day, or a few days, or even for a whole year, it concentrates public attention on some great figure of the past, and it may even induce a few of us to take down, from dusty shelves labelled 'Classics', the works of a master like Goethe or Wordsworth. We deceive ourselves if we imagine that such works are constantly read by any considerable number of people: Reading--leisured, absorbed, and curious--is rapidly ceasing to exist as a characteristic activity of modern man. We read because we must--to get a degree or to be able to chatter about the latest novelty; we rarely read to communicate with some great mind, to share some genial vision. Reading, like walking, is one of the lost arts; one of the sacrifices we have made to speed, noise, and news.
To see how different it was in Wordsworth's day we have only to read Dorothy's Journals. 'We spent the morning in the orchard--read the Prothalamium of Spenser; walked backwards and forwards.' Or: 'We had a nice walk, and afterwards sat by a nice snug fire, and William read Spenser, and I read As You Like It.' Another day: 'After tea I read aloud the eleventh book of Paradise Lost. We were much impressed, and also melted into tears.' There are many entries of that kind, proving that to these people the reading of the classics was a normal activity, indulged in without pride, without effort, by the fireside or in the orchard, at any time of day, in any season. And they cooked, and washed up, and brought up