The Prose Works of William Wordsworth
by William Wordsworth
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What is the use of pushing on the education of girls so fast, and mainly by the stimulus of Emulation, who, to say nothing worse of her, is cousin-german to Envy? What are you to do with these girls? what demand is there for the ability that they may have prematurely acquired? Will they not be indisposed to bend to any kind of hard labour or drudgery? and yet many of them must submit to it, or do wrong. The mechanism of the Bell system is not required in small places; praying after the fugleman is not like praying at a mother's knee. The Bellites overlook the difference: they talk about moral discipline; but wherein does it encourage the imaginative feelings, without which the practical understanding is of little avail, and too apt to become the cunning slave of the bad passions. I dislike display in everything; above all in education.... The old dame did not affect to make theologians or logicians; but she taught to read; and she practised the memory, often, no doubt, by rote; but still the faculty was improved: something, perhaps, she explained, and trusted the rest to parents, to masters, and to the pastor of the parish. I am sure as good daughters, as good servants, as good mothers and wives, were brought up at that time as now, when the world is so much less humble-minded. A hand full of employment, and a head not above it, with such principles and habits as may be acquired without the Madras machinery, are the best security for the chastity of wives of the lower rank.

Farewell. I have exhausted my paper.

Your affectionate


[34] Memoirs, vol. ii. pp. 180-3. G.

* * * * *

Of the Same to the Same,


I have taken a folio sheet to make certain minutes upon the subject of EDUCATION.

As a Christian preacher your business is with man as an immortal being. Let us imagine you to be addressing those, and those only, who would gladly co-operate with you in any course of education which is most likely to ensure to men a happy immortality. Are you satisfied with that course which the most active of this class are bent upon? Clearly not, as I remember from your conversation, which is confirmed by your last letter. Great principles, you hold, are sacrificed to shifts and expedients. I agree with you. What more sacred law of nature, for instance, than that the mother should educate her child? yet we felicitate ourselves upon the establishment of infant-schools, which is in direct opposition to it. Nay, we interfere with the maternal instinct before the child is born, by furnishing, in cases where there is no necessity, the mother with baby-linen for her unborn child. Now, that in too many instances a lamentable necessity may exist for this, I allow; but why should such charity be obtruded? Why should so many excellent ladies form themselves into committees, and rush into an almost indiscriminate benevolence, which precludes the poor mother from the strongest motive human nature can be actuated by for industry, for forethought, and self-denial? When the stream has thus been poisoned at its fountain-head, we proceed, by separating, through infant-schools, the mother from the child, and from the rest of the family, disburthening them of all care of the little-one for perhaps eight hours of the day. To those who think this an evil, but a necessary one, much might be said, in order to qualify unreasonable expectations. But there are thousands of stirring people now in England, who are so far misled as to deem these schools good in themselves, and to wish that, even in the smallest villages, the children of the poor should have what they call 'a good education' in this way. Now, these people (and no error is at present more common) confound education with tuition.

Education, I need not remark to you, is everything that draws out the human being, of which tuition, the teaching of schools especially, however important, is comparatively an insignificant part. Yet the present bent of the public mind is to sacrifice the greater power to the less—all that life and nature teach, to the little that can be learned from books and a master. In the eyes of an enlightened statesman this is absurd; in the eyes of a pure lowly-minded Christian it is monstrous.

The Spartan and other ancient communities might disregard domestic ties, because they had the substitution of country, which we cannot have. With us, country is a mere name compared with what it was to the Greeks; first, as contrasted with barbarians; and next, and above all, as that passion only was strong enough to preserve the individual, his family, and the whole State, from ever-impending destruction. Our course is to supplant domestic attachments without the possibility of substituting others more capacious. What can grow out of it but selfishness?

Let it then be universally admitted that infant-schools are an evil, only tolerated to qualify a greater, viz., the inability of mothers to attend to their children, and the like inability of the elder to take care of the younger, from their labour being wanted in factories, or elsewhere, for their common support. But surely this is a sad state of society; and if these expedients of tuition or education (if that word is not to be parted with) divert our attention from the fact that the remedy for so mighty an evil must be sought elsewhere, they are most pernicious things, and the sooner they are done away with the better.

But even as a course of tuition, I have strong objections to infant-schools; and in no small degree to the Madras system also. We must not be deceived by premature adroitness. The intellect must not be trained with a view to what the infant or child may perform, without constant reference to what that performance promises for the man. It is with the mind as with the body. I recollect seeing a German babe stuffed with beer and beef, who had the appearance of an infant Hercules. He might have enough in him of the old Teutonic blood to grow up to a strong man; but tens of thousands would dwindle and perish after such unreasonable cramming. Now I cannot but think, that the like would happen with our modern pupils, if the views of the patrons of these schools were realised. The diet they offer is not the natural diet for infant and juvenile minds. The faculties are over-strained, and not exercised with that simultaneous operation which ought to be aimed at as far as is practicable. Natural history is taught in infant-schools by pictures stuck up against walls, and such mummery. A moment's notice of a red-breast pecking by a winter's hearth is worth it all.

These hints are for the negative side of the question: and for the positive,—what conceit, and presumption, and vanity, and envy, and mortification, and hypocrisy, &c. &c., are the unavoidable result of schemes where there is so much display and contention! All this is at enmity with Christianity; and if the practice of sincere churchmen in this matter be so, what have we not to fear when we cast our eyes upon other quarters where religious instruction is deliberately excluded? The wisest of us expect far too much from school teaching. One of the most innocent, contented, happy, and, in his sphere, most useful men whom I know, can neither read nor write. Though learning and sharpness of wit must exist somewhere, to protect, and in some points to interpret the Scriptures, yet we are told that the Founder of this religion rejoiced in spirit, that things were hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes: and again, 'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise.' Apparently, the infants here contemplated were under a very different course of discipline from that which many in our day are condemned to. In a town of Lancashire, about nine in the morning, the streets resound with the crying of infants, wheeled off in carts and other vehicles (some ladies, I believe, lending their carriages for this purpose) to their school-prisons.

But to go back a little. Human learning, as far as it tends to breed pride and self-estimation (and that it requires constant vigilance to counteract this tendency we must all feel), is against the spirit of the Gospel. Much cause then is there to lament that inconsiderate zeal, wherever it is found, which whets the intellect by blunting the affections. Can it, in a general view, be good, that an infant should learn much which its parents do not know? Will not the child arrogate a superiority unfavourable to love and obedience?

But suppose this to be an evil only for the present generation, and that a succeeding race of infants will have no such advantage over their parents; still it may be asked, should we not be making these infants too much the creatures of society when we cannot make them more so? Here would they be for eight hours in the day like plants in a conservatory. What is to become of them for the other sixteen hours, when they are returned to all the influences, the dread of which first suggested this contrivance? Will they be better able to resist the mischief they may be exposed to from the bad example of their parents, or brothers and sisters? It is to be feared not, because, though they must have heard many good precepts, their condition in school is artificial; they have been removed from the discipline and exercise of humanity, and they have, besides, been subject to many evil temptations within school and peculiar to it.

In the present generation I cannot see anything of an harmonious co-operation between these schools and home influences. If the family be thoroughly bad, and the child cannot be removed altogether, how feeble the barrier, how futile the expedient! If the family be of middle character, the children will lose more by separation from domestic cares and reciprocal duties, than they can possibly gain from captivity with such formal instruction as may be administered.

We are then brought round to the point, that it is to a physical and not a moral necessity that we must look, if we would justify this disregard, I had almost said violation, of a primary law of human nature. The link of eleemosynary tuition connects the infant school with the national schools upon the Madras system. Now I cannot but think that there is too much indiscriminate gratuitous instruction in this country; arising out of the misconception above adverted to, of the real power of school teaching, relatively to the discipline of life; and out of an over-value of talent, however exerted, and of knowledge prized for its own sake, and acquired in the shape of knowledge. The latter clauses of the last sentence glance rather at the London University and the Mechanics' Institutes than at the Madras schools, yet they have some bearing upon these also. Emulation, as I observed in my last letter, is the master-spring of that system. It mingles too much with all teaching, and with all learning; but in the Madras mode it is the great wheel which puts every part of the machine into motion.

But I have been led a little too far from gratuitous instruction. If possible, instruction ought never to be altogether so. A child will soon learn to feel a stronger love and attachment to its parents, when it perceives that they are making sacrifices for its instruction. All that precept can teach is nothing compared with convictions of this kind. In short, unless book-attainments are carried on by the side of moral influences they are of no avail. Gratitude is one of the most benign of moral influences; can a child be grateful to a corporate body for its instruction? or grateful even to the Lady Bountiful of the neighbourhood, with all the splendour which he sees about her, as he would be grateful to his poor father and mother, who spare from their scanty provision a mite for the culture of his mind at school? If we look back upon the progress of things in this country since the Reformation, we shall find, that instruction has never been severed from moral influences and purposes, and the natural action of circumstances, in the way that is now attempted. Our forefathers established, in abundance, free grammar schools; but for a distinctly understood religious purpose. They were designed to provide against a relapse of the nation into Popery, by diffusing a knowledge of the languages in which the Scriptures are written, so that a sufficient number might be aware how small a portion of the popish belief had a foundation in Holy Writ.

It is undoubtedly to be desired that every one should be able to read, and perhaps (for that is far from being equally apparent) to write. But you will agree with me, I think, that these attainments are likely to turn to better account where they are not gratuitously lavished, and where either the parents and connections are possessed of certain property which enables them to procure the instruction for their children, or where, by their frugality and other serious and self-denying habits, they contribute, as far as they can, to benefit their offspring in this way. Surely, whether we look at the usefulness and happiness of the individual, or the prosperity and security of the State, this, which was the course of our ancestors, is the better course. Contrast it with that recommended by men in whose view knowledge and intellectual adroitness are to do everything of themselves.

We have no guarantee on the social condition of these well informed pupils for the use they may make of their power and their knowledge: the scheme points not to man as a religious being; its end is an unworthy one; and its means do not pay respect to the order of things. Try the Mechanics' Institutes and the London University, &c. &c. by this test. The powers are not co-ordinate with those to which this nation owes its virtue and its prosperity. Here is, in one case, a sudden formal abstraction of a vital principle, and in both an unnatural and violent pushing on. Mechanics' Institutes make discontented spirits and insubordinate and presumptuous workmen. Such at least was the opinion of Watt, one of the most experienced and intelligent of men. And instruction, where religion is expressly excluded, is little less to be dreaded than that by which it is trodden under foot. And, for my own part, I cannot look without shuddering on the array of surgical midwifery lectures, to which the youth of London were invited at the commencement of this season by the advertisements of the London University. Hogarth understood human nature better than these professors: his picture I have not seen for many long years, but I think his last stage of cruelty is in the dissecting room.

But I must break off, or you will have double postage to pay for this letter. Pray excuse it; and pardon the style, which is, purposely, as meagre as I could make it, for the sake of brevity. I hope that you can gather the meaning, and that is enough. I find that I have a few moments to spare, and will, therefore, address a word to those who may be inclined to ask, what is the use of all these objections? The schoolmaster is, and will remain, abroad. The thirst of knowledge is spreading and will spread, whether virtue and duty go along with it or no. Grant it; but surely these observations may be of use if they tend to check unreasonable expectations. One of the most difficult tasks is to keep benevolence in alliance with beneficence. Of the former there is no want, but we do not see our way to the latter. Tenderness of heart is indispensable for a good man, but a certain sternness of heart is as needful for a wise one. We are as impatient under the evils of society as under our own, and more so; for in the latter case, necessity enforces submission. It is hard to look upon the condition in which so many of our fellow creatures are born, but they are not to be raised from it by partial and temporary expedients: it is not enough to rush headlong into any new scheme that may be proposed, be it Benefit Societies, Savings' Banks, Infant Schools, Mechanic Institutes, or any other. Circumstances have forced this nation to do, by its manufacturers, an undue portion of the dirty and unwholesome work of the globe. The revolutions among which we have lived have unsettled the value of all kinds of property, and of labour, the most precious of all, to that degree, that misery and privation are frightfully prevalent. We must bear the sight of this, and endure its pressure, till we have by reflection discovered the cause, and not till then can we hope even to palliate the evil. It is a thousand to one but that the means resorted to will aggravate it.

Farewell, ever affectionately yours, W. WORDSWORTH.

Quere.—Is the education in the parish schools of Scotland gratuitous, or if not, in what degree is it so?[35]

[35] Memoirs, vol. ii. pp. 183-92. G.


Letter to the Rev. Dr. Wordsworth.

Rydal Mount, April 27. 1830.


Was Mr. Rose's course of sermons upon education? The more I reflect upon the subject, the more I am convinced that positive instruction, even of a religious character, is much over-rated. The education of man, and above all of a Christian, is the education of duty, which is most forcibly taught by the business and concerns of life, of which, even for children, especially the children of the poor, book-learning is but a small part. There is an officious disposition on the part of the upper and middle classes to precipitate the tendency of the people towards intellectual culture in a manner subversive of their own happiness, and dangerous to the peace of society. It is mournful to observe of how little avail are lessons of piety taught at school, if household attentions and obligations be neglected in consequence of the time taken up in school tuition, and if the head be stuffed with vanity from the gentlemanliness of the employment of reading. Farewell.

W. W.[36]

[36] Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 193. G.


Standing here as Mr. Bolton's substitute, at his own request, an honour of which I am truly sensible, it gives me peculiar pleasure to see in spite of this stormy weather, so numerous a company of his friends and neighbours upon this occasion. How happy would it have made him to have been eye-witness of an assemblage which may fairly be regarded as a proof of the interest felt in his benevolent undertaking, and an earnest that the good work will not be done in vain. Sure I am, also, that there is no one present who does not deeply regret the cause why that excellent man cannot appear among us. The public spirit of Mr. Bolton has ever been remarkable both for its comprehensiveness and the judicious way in which it has been exerted. Many years ago when we were threatened with foreign invasion, he equipped and headed a body of volunteers, for the defence of our country. Not long since the inhabitants of Ulverston (his native place I believe) were indebted to him for a large contribution towards erecting a church in that town. His recent munificent donations to the public charities of Liverpool are well known; and I only echo the sentiments of this meeting, when I say that every one would have rejoiced to see a gentleman (who has completed his 80th year) taking the lead in this day's proceedings, for which there would have been no call, but for his desire permanently to benefit a district in which he has so long been a resident proprietor. It may be gathered from old documents, that, upwards of 200 years ago, this place was provided with a school, which early in the reign of Charles II. was endowed by the liberality of certain persons of the neighbourhood. The building, originally small and low, has long been in a state which rendered the erection of a new one very desirable; this Mr. Bolton has undertaken to do at his sole expense. The structure, which is to supersede the old school-house, will have two apartments, airy, spacious, and lofty, one for boys the other for girls, in which they will be instructed by respective teachers, and not crowded together as in the old school-room, under one and the same person; each room will be capable of containing at least 100 children; within the enclosure there will be spacious and separate play-grounds for the boys and girls, with distinct covered sheds to play in in wet weather. There will also be a library-room for the school, and to contain books for the benefit of the neighbourhood; and, in short, every arrangement that could be desired. It may be added, that the building, from the elegance of its architecture, and its elevated, conspicuous situation, will prove a striking ornament to the beautiful country in the midst of which it will stand. Such being the advantages proposed, allow me to express a hope that they will be turned to the best possible account. The privilege of the school being free, will not, I trust, tempt parents to withdraw their children from punctual attendance upon slight and trivial occasions; and they will take care, as far as depends upon themselves, that the wishes of the present benefactor may be met, and his intentions fulfilled. Those wishes and intentions I will take upon me to say, are consonant to what has been expressed in the original trust-deed of the pious and sensible men already spoken of, who in that instrument declare that they have provided a fund 'towards the finding and maintenance of an able schoolmaster, and repairing the school-house from time to time, for ever; for teaching and instructing of youth within the said hamlets, in grammar, writing, reading, and other good learning and discipline meet and convenient for them; for the honour of God, for the better advancement and preferment of the said youth, and to the perpetual and thankful remembrance of the founders and authors of so good a work.' The effect of this beautiful summary upon your minds will not, I hope, be weakened if I make a brief comment upon the several clauses of it, which will comprise nearly the whole of what I feel prompted to say upon this occasion. I will take the liberty, however, of inverting the order in which the purposes of these good men are mentioned, beginning at what they end with. 'The perpetual and thankful remembrance of the founders and authors of so good a work.' Do not let it be supposed that your forefathers, when they looked onwards to this issue, did so from vanity and love of applause, uniting with local attachment; they wished their good works to be remembered principally because they were conscious that such remembrance would be beneficial to the hearts of those whom they desired to serve, and would effectually promote the particular good they had in view. Let me add for them, what their modesty and humility would have prevented their insisting upon, that such tribute of grateful recollection was, and is still, their due; for if gratitude be not the most perfect shape of justice, it is assuredly her most beautiful crown,—a halo and glory with which she delights to have her brows encircled. So much of this gratitude as those good men hoped for, I may bespeak for your neighbour, who is now animated by the same spirit, and treading in their steps.

The second point to which I shall advert is that where it is said that such and such things shall be taught 'for the better advancement and preferment of the said youth.' This purpose is as honourable as it is natural, and recalls to remembrance the time when the northern counties had, in this particular, great advantages over the rest of England. By the zealous care of many pious and good men, among whom I cannot but name (from his connection with this neighbourhood, and the benefits he conferred upon it) Archbishop Sandys, free schools were founded in these parts of the kingdom in much greater numbers than elsewhere. The learned professions derived many ornaments from this source; but a more remarkable consequence was that till within the last 40 years or so, merchants' counting-houses, and offices, in the lower departments of which a certain degree of scholastic attainment was requisite, were supplied in a great measure from Cumberland and Westmoreland. Numerous and large fortunes were the result of the skill, industry, and integrity, which the young men thus instructed, carried with them to the Metropolis. That superiority no longer exists; not so much, I trust, from a slackening on the part of the teachers, or an indisposition of the inhabitants to profit by their free schools, but because the kingdom at large has become sensible of the advantages of school instruction; and we of the north consequently have competitors from every quarter. Let not this discourage, but rather stimulate us to more strenuous endeavours, so that if we do not keep a-head of the rest of our countrymen, we may at least take care not to be left behind in the race of honourable ambition. But after all, worldly advancement and preferment neither are, nor ought to be the main end of instruction, either in schools or elsewhere, and particularly in those which are in rural places, and scantily endowed. It is in the order of Providence, as we are all aware, that most men must end their temporal course pretty much as they began it; nor will the thoughtful repine at this dispensation. In lands where nature in the many is not trampled upon by injustice, feelingly may the peasant say to the courtier—

The sun that bids your diamond blaze To deck our lily deigns.

Contentment, according to the common adage, is better than riches; and why is it better? Not merely because there can be no happiness without it, but for the sake, also, of its moral dignity. Mankind, we know, are placed on earth to have their hearts and understandings exercised and improved, some in one sphere and some in another, to undergo various trials, and to perform divers duties; that duty which, in the world's estimation may seem the least, often being the most important in the eyes of our heavenly Father. Well and wisely has it been said, in words which I need not scruple to quote here, where extreme poverty and abject misery are unknown—

God doth not need Either man's work or his own gifts; who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best; his state Is kingly—thousands at his bidding speed And post o'er land and ocean without rest; They also serve who only stand and wait.

Thus am I naturally led to the third and last point in the declaration of the ancient trust-deed, which I mean to touch upon:—'Youth shall lie instructed in grammar, writing, reading, and, other good discipline, meet and convenient for them, for the honour of God.' Now, my friends and neighbours, much as we must admire the zeal and activity which have of late years been shewn in the teaching of youth, I will candidly ask those among you, who have had sufficient opportunities to observe, whether the instruction given in many schools is, in fact, meet and convenient? In the building about to be erected here, I have not the smallest reason for dreading that it will be otherwise. But I speak in the hearing of persons who may be active in the management of schools elsewhere; and they will excuse me for saying, that many are conducted at present so as to afford melancholy proof that instruction is neither meet nor convenient for the pupils there taught, nor, indeed, for the human mind in any rank or condition of society. I am not going to say that religious instruction, the most important of all, is neglected; far from it; but I affirm, that it is too often given with reference, less to the affections, to the imagination, and to the practical duties, than to subtile distinctions in points of doctrine, and to facts in scripture history, of which a knowledge may be brought out by a catechetical process. This error, great though it be, ought to be looked at with indulgence, because it is a tempting thing for teachers unduly to exercise the understanding and memory, inasmuch as progress in the departments in which these faculties are employed, is most obviously proved to the teacher himself, and most flatteringly exhibited to the inspectors of schools and casual lookers on. A still more lamentable error which proceeds much from the same cause, is an over-strained application to mental processes of arithmetic and mathematics; and a too minute attention to departments of natural and civil history. How much of trick may mix with this we will not ask, but the display of precocious intellectual power in these branches, is often astonishing; and, in proportion as it is so, may, for the most part, be pronounced not only useless, but injurious. The training that fits a boxer for victory in the ring, gives him strength that cannot, and is not required, to be kept up for ordinary labour, and often lays the foundation of subsequent weakness and fatal disease. In like manner there being in after life no call for these extraordinary powers of mind, and little use for the knowledge, the powers decay, and the knowledge withers and drops off. Here is then not only a positive injury, but a loss of opportunities for culture of intellect and acquiring information, which, as being in a course of regular demand, would be hereafter, the one strengthened and the other naturally increased. All this mischief, my friends, originates in a decay of that feeling which our fathers had uppermost in their hearts, viz., that the business of education should be conducted for the honour of God. And here I must direct your attention to a fundamental mistake, by which this age, so distinguished for its marvellous progress in arts and sciences, is unhappily characterized—a mistake, manifested in the use of the word education, which is habitually confounded with tuition or school instruction; this is indeed a very important part of education, but when it is taken for the whole, we are deceived and betrayed. Education, according to the derivation of the word, and in the only use of which it is strictly justifiable, comprehends all those processes and influences, come from whence they may, that conduce to the best development of the bodily powers, and of the moral, intellectual, and spiritual faculties which the position of the individual admits of. In this just and high sense of the word, the education of a sincere Christian, and a good member of society upon Christian principles, does not terminate with his youth, but goes on to the last moment of his conscious earthly existence—an education not for time but for eternity. To education like this, is indispensably necessary, as co-operating with schoolmasters and ministers of the gospel, the never-ceasing vigilance of parents; not so much exercised in superadding their pains to that of the schoolmaster or minister in teaching lessons or catechisms, or by enforcing maxims or precepts (though this part of their duty ought to be habitually kept in mind), but by care over their own conduct. It is through the silent operation of example in their own well-regulated behaviour, and by accustoming their children early to the discipline of daily and hourly life, in such offices and employment as the situation of the family requires, and as are suitable to tender years, that parents become infinitely the most important tutors of their children, without appearing, or positively meaning to be so. This education of circumstances has happily, in this district, not yet been much infringed upon by experimental novelties; parents here are anxious to send their offspring to those schools where knowledge substantially useful is inculcated, and those arts most carefully taught for which in after life there will be most need; this is especially true of the judgments of parents respecting the instruction of their daughters, which I know they would wish to be confined to reading, writing, and arithmetic, and plain needlework, or any other art favourable to economy and home-comforts. Their shrewd sense perceives that hands full of employment, and a head not above it, afford the best protection against restlessness and discontent, and all the perilous temptations to which, through them, youthful females are exposed. It is related of Burns, the celebrated Scottish poet, that once while in the company of a friend, he was looking from an eminence over a wide tract of country, he said, that the sight of so many smoking cottages gave a pleasure to his mind that none could understand who had not witnessed, like himself, the happiness and worth which they contained. How were those happy and worthy people educated? By the influence of hereditary good example at home, and by their parochial schoolmasters opening the way for the admonitions and exhortations of their clergy; that was at a time when knowledge was perhaps better than now distinguished from smatterings of information, and when knowledge itself was more thought of in due subordination to wisdom. How was the evening before the sabbath then spent by the families among which the poet was brought up? He has himself told us in imperishable verse. The Bible was brought forth, and after the father of the family had reverently laid aside, his bonnet, passages of scripture were read, and the poet thus describes what followed:—

Then kneeling down to Heaven's eternal King, The saint, the father, and the husband prays; Hope springs exulting on triumphant wing, That thus they all shall meet in future days: There ever bask in uncreated rays, No more to sigh or shed the bitter tear Together hymning their Creator's praise, In such society, yet still more dear; While circling time moves round in an eternal sphere.

May He who enlightened the understanding of those cottagers with a knowledge of Himself for the entertainment of such hope, 'who sanctified their affections that they might love Him, and put His fear into their hearts that they might dread to offend Him'—may He who, in preparing for these blessed effects, disdained not the humble instrumentality of parochial schools, enable this of ours, by the discipline and teaching pursued in it, to sow seeds for a like harvest! In this wish, I am sure, my friends, you will all fervently join; and now, after renewing our expression of regret that the benevolent founder is not here to perform the ceremony himself, we will proceed to lay the first stone of the intended edifice.



I. Apology for the French Revolution.

P. 3, l. 5. 'A sublime allegory.' 'The Vision of Mirza' of Addison, originally published in 'The Spectator' (No. 159, Sept. 1, 1711).

P. 4, ll. 38-9. 'A bishop, a man of philosophy and humanity, as distinguished as your lordship.' This was the Abbe Gregoire, whom Schlosser describes as the 'good-natured, pious, and visionary bishop;' and again, 'particular attention must be paid to the speeches of the pious Gregoire and his dreams of Utopian virtue.' ('History of the 18th Century,' vol. vi. pp. 203-434). cf. Alison's 'History of the French Revolution,' vol. ii. c. vii. pp. 81-2 (ed. 1853); vol. xii. p. 3, et alibi.

P. 7, l. 20. 'The hero of the necklace.' Prince de Rohan. More exactly the Cardinal de Rohan, but who was of the princely house of De Rohan. Carlyle has characteristically told the story of 'the diamond necklace' in one of his Essays. Cf. Alison, as before, i. p. 177; and Schlosser, s.u.

P. 8, l. 22. 'Mr. Burke, in a philosophic lamentation over the extinction of chivalry,' &c. The famous apostrophe in relation to Marie Antoinette in his 'Reflections on the Revolution in France' (1790).

P. 9, ll. 8-12. The author gives no reference whatever to the source of this French quotation.

P. 14, l. 34. 'The Rights of Man.' The famous (or notorious) book of Thos. Paine, published in 1791-2 as 'The Rights of Man; being an Answer to Mr. Burke's Attack on the French Revolution.' See p. 21 for Wordsworth's vehement denunciation of Burke in the work which Paine answers, viz. 'The Reflections,' &c. But Wordsworth's ultimate estimate of Burke is the splendid praise of 'The Prelude,' book vii. ll. 513-544.

II. The Convention of Cintra.

Title-page. 'Qui didicit,' &c. From Horace, 'De Arto Poetica,' ll. 312, 314, 315.

Verso of title-page. Quotation from Bacon. From 'Advertisement touching the Controversies of the Church of England (4th paragraph), Spedding's Letters and Life,' vol. i. p. 76.

P. 55, l. 40. 'General Loison.' A French general of cavalry. He was known by the nickname of Maneta, the bloody one-handed. He was the Alaric of Evora. 'His misdeeds,' says Southey, 'were never equalled or paralleled in the dark ages.' It was from Orense that Soult invaded Portugal, having Loison and Foy for his lieutenants.

P. 56, l. 26. 'M. le duc d'Abrantes.' Andoche Junot, duc d'Abrantes, born 23d Oct. 1771, and died by his own hand 29th July 1813. He was created duke by Napoleon when he was sent by him to command the French army in Portugal (1808); defeated by Sir Arthur Wellesley (Wellington) at Vimiera, 21st August 1808.

P. 65, l. 27. 'Massaredo.' Rather Mazaredo, a Spanish general. He had lived much in England. He cleansed and repaired Sir John Moore's tomb at Corunna, and planted the ground for a public Alameda (walk).

P. 59, ll. 25-6. 'General Morla.' At wind-blown Fuencanal (one league from Madrid) is an old mansion of the Mendoza family, in which Buonaparte lodged from Dec. 2, 1808, until Dec. 22; and here, Dec. 3, he received the Madrid deputation headed by the traitor Morla. 'On the 4th Dec. 1808, General Morla and General Don Fernando de Vera, governor of the town (Madrid), presented themselves, and at ten o'clock General Belliard took the command of Madrid. All the posts were put into the hands of the French, and a general pardon was proclaimed' (Southey, s.n.).

P. 60, l. 15. 'The names of Pelayo and The Cid,' &c. (1) Pelayo. The Moorish descent was made in great force near Gibraltar in 711. The battle of the Gaudalete (fought near Jerez de la Frontera) followed immediately; and in the course of three years they (the Moors) had conquered the whole of Spain except the north-west region (Biscay and Asturias), behind whose mountains a large body of Chontians under Pelayo retreated. Seven years later he (Pelayo) defeated the Moors, seized Leon, and became the first king of the Asturias. (2) The Cid. Rodrigo Ruy Diaz of Vibar, born in 1026, is the prince the champion of Spain, El Cid Campeador, and the Achilles and Aeneas of Gotho-Spanish epos. Thus, as Schlegel says, 'he is worth a whole library for the understanding the spirit of his age and the character of the old Castilian.' 'Cast in the stern mould of a disputed and hostile invasion, when men fought for their God and their father-land, for all they had or hoped for in this world and the next, the Cid possessed the vices and virtues of the mediaeval Spaniard, and combined the daring personal valour, the cool determination and perseverance of the Northman, engrafted on the subtle perfidy and brilliant chivalry of the Oriental.'

P. 63, l. 15. 'Ferdinand VII.' King of Spain; born 1784; died 1833. Father of Isabella II., the present ex-queen of Spain. In opposition to his father and his best advisers, he solicited the protection of Napoleon, for which he was imprisoned (1807); compelled to renounce his rights (1808); resided at Bayonne, where he servilely subjected himself to Napoleon, 1808 to 1813; restored 1814, when he abolished the Cortes and revived the Inquisition. By the help of a French army he put down au insurrection, and reestablished absolute despotism (1823). He married Christiana of Naples (now Duchess Rianzanes), 1829. Abolished Salic law in favour of his daughter, 1830.

P. 84, l. 35. 'Radice in Tartara tendit.' From Virgil, Georg. ii. 292.

P. 92, l. 28. 'General Dupont.' In June 1808, Dupont, commanding the French army, had marched from Madrid to Andalusia, in the south of Spain, given Cordova up to pillage, and committed atrocities which roused the Spanish people to fury. The Spanish general Leastanos (afterwards created Duque de Baylen), with an army sent by the Junta of Seville, won the sanguinary battle of Baylen, and compelled the French to surrender at discretion on the 21st July 1808.

P. 96, l. 37. 'General Friere.' More accurately, Freyere, viz. Manuel Freyere, a Spanish general; born 1795; died 1834. He distinguished himself in the War of Independence, 1809-1813. He helped much in gaining the victory at Toulouse, 10th April 1814. Faithful to constitutional principles, he retired from public life in 1820.

P. 109, ll. 12-16. Quotation from Milton. Adapted from 'Paradise Lost,' book x. ll. 294-7.

P. 117, l. 33. 'The Boy of Saragossa.' Probably a lapsus for the Maid of Saragossa, Angustina. This Amazon (in a good, soft sense), although a mere itinerant seller of cool drinks, vied in heroism with the noble Condeya de Burita, who amid the crash of war tended the sick and wounded, resembling in looks and deeds a ministering angel. She (Angustina) snatched the match from a dying artillery-man's hand, and fired the cannon at the French; hence she was called La Artillera.

P. 122, ll. 8-10. Latin quotation. Virgil, Eclogae, iv. 6.

P. 149, ll. 16-19. Quotation from Milton, viz. 'Paradise Lost,' book iii. ll. 455-7.

P. 149, l. 40. 'The Sicilian Vespers.' The historical name given to the massacre of the French in Sicily, commenced at Palermo 30th March 1282. The late Earl of Ellesmere wrote a monograph on the subject.

P. 160, ll. 11-13. Quotation in Italian. From Dante, 'Inferno,' c. iii. ll. 1-3.

P. 165, ll. 30-1. Saying of Pyrrhus. More exactly, 'Another such victory, and I must return to Epeirus alone' (said of the renowned battle on the bank of the Siris). See 'Plutarch and Dionysius,' and Droysen, 'Geschichte des Hellenisinus,' s.n.

P. 166, l. 31. 'Onward.' Sir Philip Warwick. His 'Memoirs' were reprinted and edited by Sir Walter Scott (1702). His 'portraiture' of Cromwell is among the commonplaces of history.

P. 167, l. 30. 'Padre St. Iago Sass.' He is introduced into Wilkie's famous picture of the 'Maid of Saragossa.'

P. 167, l. 31. 'Palafox.' Jose Palafox y Chelzi, Duke of Saragossa, was born in 1780; heroically defended Saragossa against the attack of the French, 27th July 1808; sent prisoner to France 21st Feb. 1809; released 11th Dec. 1813; died 16th Feb. 1847.

P. 173-4. 'Petrarch.' From his Epistolae, s.v.—'Milton.' Apparently a somewhat loose recollection from memory of a passage in 'The Ready and Easy Way to establish a Free Commonwealth,' &c. (1659-60), commencing 'It may be well thought strange,' &c.

III. Vindication of Opinions in the Treatise on the Convention of Cintra.

P. 205, footnote. Latin quotation. Read, 'Totis imperii viribus [contra mirmillonem] consurgitur.' Floras, iii. 20.


I. Of Legislation for the Poor.

P. 275, ll. 28 onward. Quotation from Milton. From 'Paradise Lost,' book x. ll. 743-747, but changed somewhat in meaning.

P. 277, ll. 16-17. Quotation. Adapted from 'Guilt and Sorrow,' st. xli. II. 8-9.

II. (e) Speech on Laying the Foundation-stone of the New School, &c.

On this occasion a prayer was offered by the Rev. R.P. Graves, M.A., (then) the curate, which—as admirably suitable, and as having made a profound impression at the time, the bowed head and reverent look of the venerable Poet as he joined in it remaining 'pleasures of memory' still—it is deemed expedient to preserve permanently. I derive it from the same source as the full Speech itself, and give the context: 'Mr. Wordsworth then descended a step-ladder to the foundation-stone, and deposited the bottle in the cavity, which was covered with a brass plate, having inscribed on it the name of the founder, date, &c. Being furnished with a trowel and mortar by the master mason, Mr. John Holme, he spread it; another massy stone was then let down upon the first, and adjusted to its position, Mr. Wordsworth handling the rule, plumb-line, and mallet, and patting the stone he retired. The Rev. R.P. Graves next offered up the following prayer for the welfare and success of the undertaking: "The foundation-stone of the new parochial school-house of Bowness being now laid, it remains that, as your minister, I should invoke upon the work that blessing of God, without which no human undertaking can prosper,—O Lord God, Who dwellest on high, Whose throne is the Heaven of heavens, and Who yet deignest to look down with goodness and mercy on Thy children of earth, look down, we beseech Thee, with favour upon us who now implore Thy gracious benediction on the work which is before Thee. The building which Thou hast put into the heart of Thy servant to erect grant that, as it is happily begun, it may be successfully completed, and that it may become a fountain-head of blessing to this place and neighbourhood. Thou hast directed us, O Lord, to bring up our children in Thy nurture and admonition; bless, we pray Thee, this effort to secure the constant fulfilment of so important a duty, one so entirely bound up with our own and our children's welfare. Grant that here, from age to age, the youth of these hamlets may receive such faithful instruction as may fit them for usefulness in this life, and for happiness in the next. Grant that the one school may send out numbers endued with such principles and knowledge as may make them, in their several callings, industrious, upright, useful men; in society, peaceful neighbours, contented citizens, loyal subjects; in their families, affectionate sons, and husbands, and fathers; in the Church, dutiful members of that pure and Scriptural Establishment with which Thou hast blessed our Land; and, as crowning and including all, resolved and pious followers of our Redeemer Christ. Grant too, O Lord, that the females which shall be educated in the other school shall receive there such valuable principles and such convenient knowledge as may fit them to make happy the homes of such men; that, with Thy blessing on their instruction, they may become obedient and dutiful children, modest and virtuous women, faithful and affectionate wives and mothers, pious and unassuming Christians; so that with regard to both it may be widely and gratefully owned that here was sown the good seed which shall have borne fruit abundantly in all the relations of life, and which at the great day of harvest hereafter shall, according to Thy word, be gathered into Thy garner. Such, O Lord God, Thou knowest to be the good objects contemplated by the original founders of the school, and the promotion of which is at the heart of him whose benefaction we have this day seen auspiciously begun. Trusting, therefore, O Lord, with full assurance that Thou dost favourably allow and regard these pious designs, I now undertake, as God's minister, and in His name, to bless and dedicate for ever this spot of ground, and the building which, with the Divine permission, will be here erected, and of which this is the foundation-stone, to the sound and religious training up of youth from generation to generation, to the continued grateful remembrance of the pious benefactor, and to the everlasting glory of God Most High, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And let all the people say, Amen."'

P. 288, ll. 1-3. These lines might have gone into the closing book of 'The Prelude,' but I have failed to trace or recall them.

P. 223. Long verse-quotation. From 'The Prelude,' book xiii. ll. 220-277.

P. 311, footnote [A], viz. Captain T. Ashe's 'Travels in America in the year 1806, for the purpose of exploring the rivers of Alleghanny, Monongahela, Ohio, and the Mississippi, and ascertaining the Produce and Condition of their Banks and Vicinity.' 3 vols. 12mo, 1808. Alexander Wilson, the 'Ornithologist,' vainly sought to accompany Ashe. Had he done so the incredibilities of these Travels had probably been omitted. (See his Works by me, 2 vols. 8vo, 1875.)

P. 326. Verse-quotation at close. From close of 'Ode to Duty' (xix. 'Poems of Sentiment and Reflection').

P. 353, ll. 7-8. Verse-quotation. Whence? It sounds familiarly.

P. 353, ll. 20-25. From Milton, 'Sonnet xiv.'

P. 356, ll. 16-24. Verse-quotation. From Burns' 'Cottar's Saturday Night.' It may be noted here that the 'saint, the father, and the husband' of this imperishable celebration of lowly Scottish godliness was William Burns (or Burness), father of the Poet; and whilst this note is being written a copy of a most interesting MS. (about to be published) by William Burness, prepared by him for his children, reaches me. It is entitled, 'Manual of Religious Belief, by William Burness, in the form of a Dialogue between a Father and his Son.' G.




Edited, with Preface, Notes and Illustrations,







AMS Press, Inc. New York 10003 1967 Manufactured in the United States of America


*** A star [*] designates publication herein for the first time G.


I. Of Literary Biography and Monuments: (a) A Letter to a Friend of Robert Burns, 1816 (b) Letter to a Friend on Monuments to Literary Men, 1819 (c) Letter to John Peace, Esq., of Bristol, 1844 II. Upon Epitaphs: (a) From 'The Friend' *(b) From the Author's MSS.: The Country Church-yard, and critical Examination of Ancient Epitaphs *(c) From the Author's MSS.: Celebrated Epitaphs considered III. Essays, Letters, and Notes, elucidatory and confirmatory of the Poems, 1798-1835: (a) Of the Principles of Poetry and the 'Lyrical Ballads,' 1798-1802 (b) Of Poetic Diction (c) Poetry as a Study, 1815 (d) Of Poetry as Observation and Description, and Dedication of 1815 (e) Of 'The Excursion:' Preface *(f) Letters to Sir George and Lady Beaumont and others, on the Poems and related Subjects[1] (g) Letter to Charles Fox with the 'Lyrical Ballads,' and his Answer, &c. (h) Letter on the Principles of Poetry and his own Poems to (afterwards) Professor John Wilson IV. Descriptive: (a) A Guide through the District of the Lakes, 1835 (b) Kendal and Windermere Railway: two Letters reprinted from the Morning Post. Revised, with Additions, 1844 NOTES AND ILLUSTRATIONS

[1] The Beaumont Letters are given from the originals, and in many cases, as elsewhere, contain important additions and corrections. G.







For details on the several portions of this division, see the Preface in Vol. I. G.









I have carefully perused the Review of the Life of your friend Robert Burns,[2] which you kindly transmitted to me; the author has rendered a substantial service to the poet's memory; and the annexed letters are all important to the subject. After having expressed this opinion, I shall not trouble you by commenting upon the publication; but will confine myself to the request of Mr. Gilbert Burns, that I would furnish him with my notions upon the best mode of conducting the defence of his brother's injured reputation; a favourable opportunity being now afforded him to convey his sentiments to the world, along with a republication of Dr. Currie's book, which he is about to superintend. From the respect which I have long felt for the character of the person who has thus honoured me, and from the gratitude which, as a lover of poetry, I owe to the genius of his departed relative, I should most gladly comply with this wish; if I could hope that any suggestions of mine would be of service to the cause. But, really, I feel it a thing of much delicacy, to give advice upon this occasion, as it appears to me, mainly, not a question of opinion, or of taste, but a matter of conscience. Mr. Gilbert Burns must know, if any man living does, what his brother was; and no one will deny that he, who possesses this knowledge, is a man of unimpeachable veracity. He has already spoken to the world in contradiction of the injurious assertions that have been made, and has told why he forbore to do this on their first appearance.

[2] A Review of the Life of Robert Burns, and of various Criticisms on his Character and Writings, by Alexander Peterkin, 1814.

If it be deemed adviseable to reprint Dr. Currie's narrative, without striking out such passages as the author, if he were now alive, would probably be happy to efface, let there be notes attached to the most obnoxious of them, in which the misrepresentations may be corrected, and the exaggerations exposed. I recommend this course, if Dr. Currie's Life is to be republished, as it now stands, in connexion with the poems and letters, and especially if prefixed to them; but, in my judgment, it would be best to copy the example which Mason has given in his second edition of Gray's works. There, inverting the order which had been properly adopted, when the Life and Letters were new matter, the poems are placed first; and the rest takes its place as subsidiary to them. If this were done in the intended edition of Burns's works, I should strenuously recommend, that a concise life of the poet be prefixed, from the pen of Gilbert Burns, who has already given public proof how well qualified he is for the undertaking. I know no better model as to proportion, and the degree of detail required, nor, indeed, as to the general execution, than the life of Milton by Fenton, prefixed to many editions of the Paradise Lost. But a more copious narrative would be expected from a brother; and some allowance ought to be made, in this and other respects, for an expectation so natural.

In this prefatory memoir, when the author has prepared himself by reflecting, that fraternal partiality may have rendered him, in some points, not so trustworthy as others less favoured by opportunity, it will be incumbent upon him to proceed candidly and openly, as far as such a procedure will tend to restore to his brother that portion of public estimation, of which he appears to have been unjustly deprived. Nay, when we recall to mind the black things which have been written of this great man, and the frightful ones that have been insinuated against him; and, as far as the public knew, till lately, without complaint, remonstrance, or disavowal, from his nearest relatives; I am not sure that it would not be best, at this day, explicitly to declare to what degree Robert Burns had given way to pernicious habits, and, as nearly as may be, to fix the point to which his moral character had been degraded. It is a disgraceful feature of the times that this measure should be necessary; most painful to think that a brother should have such an office to perform. But, if Gilbert Burns be conscious that the subject will bear to be so treated, he has no choice; the duty has been imposed upon him by the errors into which the former biographer has fallen, in respect to the very principles upon which his work ought to have been conducted.

I well remember the acute sorrow with which, by my own fire-side, I first perused Dr. Currie's Narrative, and some of the letters, particularly of those composed in the latter part of the poet's life. If my pity for Burns was extreme, this pity did not preclude a strong indignation, of which he was not the object. If, said I, it were in the power of a biographer to relate the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, the friends and surviving kindred of the deceased, for the sake of general benefit to mankind, might endure that such heart-rending communication should be made to the world. But in no case is this possible; and, in the present, the opportunities of directly acquiring other than superficial knowledge have been most scanty; for the writer has barely seen the person who is the subject of his tale; nor did his avocations allow him to take the pains necessary for ascertaining what portion of the information conveyed to him was authentic. So much for facts and actions; and to what purpose relate them even were they true, if the narrative cannot be heard without extreme pain; unless they are placed in such a light, and brought forward in such order, that they shall explain their own laws, and leave the reader in as little uncertainty as the mysteries of our nature will allow, respecting the spirit from which they derived their existence, and which governed the agent? But hear on this pathetic and awful subject, the poet himself, pleading for those who have transgressed!

One point must still be greatly dark, The moving why they do it, And just as lamely can ye mark How far, perhaps, they rue it.

Who made the heart, 'tis he alone Decidedly can try us; He knows each chord—its various tone, Each spring, its various bias.

Then at the balance let's be mute, We never can adjust it; What's done we partly may compute, But know not what's resisted.

How happened it that the recollection of this affecting passage did not check so amiable a man as Dr. Currie, while he was revealing to the world the infirmities of its author? He must have known enough of human nature to be assured that men would be eager to sit in judgment, and pronounce decidedly upon the guilt or innocence of Burns by his testimony; nay, that there were multitudes whose main interest in the allegations would be derived from the incitements which they found therein to undertake this presumptuous office. And where lies the collateral benefit, or what ultimate advantage can be expected, to counteract the injury that the many are thus tempted to do to their own minds; and to compensate the sorrow which must be fixed in the hearts of the considerate few, by language that proclaims so much, and provokes conjectures as unfavourable as imagination can furnish? Here, said I, being moved beyond what it would become me to express, here is a revolting account of a man of exquisite genius, and confessedly of many high moral qualities, sunk into the lowest depths of vice and misery! But the painful story, notwithstanding its minuteness, is incomplete,—in essentials it is deficient; so that the most attentive and sagacious reader cannot explain how a mind, so well established by knowledge, fell—and continued to fall, without power to prevent or retard its own ruin.

Would a bosom friend of the author, his counsellor and confessor, have told such things, if true, as this book contains? and who, but one possessed of the intimate knowledge which none but a bosom friend can acquire, could have been justified in making these avowals? Such a one, himself a pure spirit, having accompanied, as it were, upon wings, the pilgrim along the sorrowful road which he trod on foot; such a one, neither hurried down by its slippery descents, nor entangled among its thorns, nor perplexed by its windings, nor discomfited by its founderous passages—for the instruction of others—might have delineated, almost as in a map, the way which the afflicted pilgrim had pursued till the sad close of his diversified journey. In this manner the venerable spirit of Isaac Walton was qualified to have retraced the unsteady course of a highly-gifted man, who, in this lamentable point, and in versatility of genius, bore no unobvious resemblance to the Scottish bard; I mean his friend COTTON—whom, notwithstanding all that the sage must have disapproved in his life, he honoured with the title of son. Nothing like this, however has the biographer of Burns accomplished; and, with his means of information, copious as in some respects they were, it would have been absurd to attempt it. The only motive, therefore, which could authorize the writing and publishing matter so distressing to read—is wanting!

Nor is Dr. Currie's performance censurable from these considerations alone; for information, which would have been of absolute worth if in his capacity of biographer and editor he had known when to stop short, is rendered unsatisfactory and inefficacious through the absence of this reserve, and from being coupled with statements of improbable and irreconcileable facts. We have the author's letters discharged upon us in showers; but how few readers will take the trouble of comparing those letters with each other, and with the other documents of the publication, in order to come at a genuine knowledge of the writer's character!—The life of Johnson by Boswell had broken through many pre-existing delicacies, and afforded the British public an opportunity of acquiring experience, which before it had happily wanted; nevertheless, at the time when the ill-selected medley of Burns's correspondence first appeared, little progress had been made (nor is it likely that, by the mass of mankind, much ever will be made) in determining what portion of these confidential communications escapes the pen in courteous, yet often innocent, compliance—to gratify the several tastes of correspondents; and as little towards distinguishing opinions and sentiments uttered for the momentary amusement merely of the writer's own fancy, from those which his judgment deliberately approves, and his heart faithfully cherishes. But the subject of this book was a man of extraordinary genius; whose birth, education, and employments had placed and kept him in a situation far below that in which the writers and readers of expensive volumes are usually found. Critics upon works of fiction have laid it down as a rule that remoteness of place, in fixing the choice of a subject, and in prescribing the mode of treating it, is equal in effect to distance of time;—restraints may be thrown off accordingly. Judge then of the delusions which artificial distinctions impose, when to a man like Doctor Currie, writing with views so honourable, the social condition of the individual of whom he was treating, could seem to place him at such a distance from the exalted reader, that ceremony might he discarded with him, and his memory sacrificed, as it were, almost without compunction. The poet was laid where these injuries could not reach him; but he had a parent, I understand, an admirable woman, still surviving; a brother like Gilbert Burns!—a widow estimable for her virtues; and children, at that time infants, with the world before them, which they must face to obtain a maintenance; who remembered their father probably with the tenderest affection;—and whose opening minds, as their years advanced, would become conscious of so many reasons for admiring him.—Ill-fated child of nature, too frequently thine own enemy,—unhappy favourite of genius, too often misguided,—this is indeed to be 'crushed beneath the furrow's weight!'

Why, sir, do I write to you at this length, when all that I had to express in direct answer to the request, which occasioned this letter, lay in such narrow compass?—Because having entered upon the subject, I am unable to quit it!—Your feelings, I trust, go along with mine; and, rising from this individual case to a general view of the subject, you will probably agree with me in opinion that biography, though differing in some essentials from works of fiction, is nevertheless, like them, an art—an art, the laws of which are determined by the imperfections of our nature, and the constitution of society. Truth is not here, as in the sciences, and in natural philosophy, to be sought without scruple, and promulgated for its own sake, upon the mere chance of its being serviceable; but only for obviously justifying purposes, moral or intellectual.

Silence is a privilege of the grave, a right of the departed: let him, therefore, who infringes that right, by speaking publicly of, for, or against, those who cannot speak for themselves, take heed that he opens not his mouth without a sufficient sanction. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, is a rule in which these sentiments have been pushed to an extreme that proves how deeply humanity is interested in maintaining them. And it was wise to announce the precept thus absolutely; both because there exist in that same nature, by which it has been dictated, so many temptations to disregard it,—and because there are powers and influences, within and without us, that will prevent its being literally fulfilled—to the suppression of profitable truth. Penalties of law, conventions of manners, and personal fear, protect the reputation of the living; and something of this protection is extended to the recently dead,—who survive, to a certain degree, in their kindred and friends. Few are so insensible as not to feel this, and not to be actuated by the feeling. But only to philosophy enlightened by the affections does it belong justly to estimate the claims of the deceased on the one hand, and of the present age and future generations, on the other; and to strike a balance between them.—Such philosophy runs a risk of becoming extinct among us, if the coarse intrusions into the recesses, the gross breaches upon the sanctities, of domestic life, to which we have lately been more and more accustomed, are to be regarded as indications of a vigorous state of public feeling—favourable to the maintenance of the liberties of our country.—Intelligent lovers of freedom are from necessity bold and hardy lovers of truth; but, according to the measure in which their love is intelligent, is it attended with a finer discrimination, and a more sensitive delicacy. The wise and good (and all others being lovers of licence rather than of liberty are in fact slaves) respect, as one of the noblest characteristics of Englishmen, that jealousy of familiar approach, which, while it contributes to the maintenance of private dignity, is one of the most efficacious guardians of rational public freedom.

The general obligation upon which I have insisted, is especially binding upon those who undertake the biography of authors. Assuredly, there is no cause why the lives of that class of men should be pried into with the same diligent curiosity, and laid open with the same disregard of reserve, which may sometimes be expedient in composing the history of men who have borne an active part in the world. Such thorough knowledge of the good and bad qualities of these latter, as can only be obtained by a scrutiny of their private lives, conduces to explain not only their own public conduct, but that of those with whom they have acted. Nothing of this applies to authors, considered merely as authors. Our business is with their books,—to understand and to enjoy them. And, of poets more especially, it is true—that, if their works be good, they contain within themselves all that is necessary to their being comprehended and relished. It should seem that the ancients thought in this manner; for of the eminent Greek and Roman poets, few and scanty memorials were, I believe, ever prepared; and fewer still are preserved. It is delightful to read what, in the happy exercise of his own genius, Horace chooses to communicate of himself and his friends; but I confess I am not so much a lover of knowledge, independent of its quality, as to make it likely that it would much rejoice me, were I to hear that records of the Sabine poet and his contemporaries, composed upon the Boswellian plan, had been unearthed among the ruins of Herculaneum. You will interpret what I am writing, liberally. With respect to the light which such a discovery might throw upon Roman manners, there would be reasons to desire it: but I should dread to disfigure the beautiful ideal of the memories of those illustrious persons with incongruous features, and to sully the imaginative purity of their classical works with gross and trivial recollections. The least weighty objection to heterogeneous details, is that they are mainly superfluous, and therefore an incumbrance.

But you will perhaps accuse me of refining too much; and it is, I own, comparatively of little importance, while we are engaged in reading the Iliad, the Eneid, the tragedies of Othello and King Lear, whether the authors of these poems were good or bad men; whether they lived happily or miserably. Should a thought of the kind cross our minds, there would be no doubt, if irresistible external evidence did not decide the question unfavourably, that men of such transcendant genius were both good and happy: and if, unfortunately, it had been on record that they were otherwise, sympathy with the fate of their fictitious personages would banish the unwelcome truth whenever it obtruded itself, so that it would but slightly disturb our pleasure. Far otherwise is it with that class of poets, the principal charm of whose writings depends upon the familiar knowledge which they convey of the personal feelings of their authors. This is eminently the case with the effusions of Burns;—in the small quantity of narrative that he has given, he himself bears no inconsiderable part, and he has produced no drama. Neither the subjects of his poems, nor his manner of handling them, allow us long to forget their author. On the basis of his human character he has reared a poetic one, which with more or less distinctness presents itself to view in almost every part of his earlier, and, in my estimation, his most valuable verses. This poetic fabric, dug out of the quarry of genuine humanity, is airy and spiritual:—and though the materials, in some parts, are coarse, and the disposition is often fantastic and irregular, yet the whole is agreeable and strikingly attractive. Plague, then, upon your remorseless hunters after matter of fact (who, after all, rank among the blindest of human beings) when they would convince you that the foundations of this admirable edifice are hollow; and that its frame is unsound! Granting that all which has been raked up to the prejudice of Burns were literally true; and that it added, which it does not, to our better understanding of human nature and human life (for that genius is not incompatible with vice, and that vice leads to misery—the more acute from the sensibilities which are the elements of genius—we needed not those communications to inform us) how poor would have been the compensation for the deduction made, by this extrinsic knowledge, from the intrinsic efficacy of his poetry—to please, and to instruct!

In illustration of this sentiment, permit me to remind you that it is the privilege of poetic genius to catch, under certain restrictions of which perhaps at the time of its being exerted it is but dimly conscious, a spirit of pleasure wherever it can be found,—in the walks of nature, and in the business of men.—The poet, trusting to primary instincts, luxuriates among the felicities of love and wine, and is enraptured while he describes the fairer aspects of war: nor does he shrink from the company of the passion of love though immoderate—from convivial pleasure though intemperate—nor from the presence of war though savage, and recognized as the handmaid of desolation. Frequently and admirably has Burns given way to these impulses of nature; both with reference to himself and in describing the condition of others. Who, but some impenetrable dunce or narrow-minded puritan in works of art, ever read without delight the picture which he has drawn of the convivial exaltation of the rustic adventurer, Tam o'Shanter? The poet fears not to tell the reader in the outset that his hero was a desperate and sottish drunkard, whose excesses were frequent as his opportunities. This reprobate sits down to his cups, while the storm is roaring, and heaven and earth are in confusion;—the night is driven on by song and tumultuous noise—laughter and jest thicken as the beverage improves upon the palate—conjugal fidelity archly bends to the service of general benevolence—selfishness is not absent, but wearing the mask of social cordiality—and, while these various elements of humanity are blended into one proud and happy composition of elated spirits, the anger of the tempest without doors only heightens and sets off the enjoyment within.—I pity him who cannot perceive that, in all this, though there was no moral purpose, there is a moral effect.

Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious, O'er a' the ills of life victorious.

What a lesson do these words convey of charitable indulgence for the vicious habits of the principal actor in this scene, and of those who resemble him!—Men who to the rigidly virtuous are objects almost of loathing, and whom therefore they cannot serve! The poet, penetrating the unsightly and disgusting surfaces of things, has unveiled with exquisite skill the finer ties of imagination and feeling, that often bind these beings to practices productive of so much unhappiness to themselves, and to those whom it is their duty to cherish;—and, as far as he puts the reader into possession of this intelligent sympathy, he qualifies him for exercising a salutary influence over the minds of those who are thus deplorably enslaved.

Not less successfully does Burns avail himself of his own character and situation in society, to construct out of them a poetic self,—introduced as a dramatic personage—for the purpose of inspiriting his incidents, diversifying his pictures, recommending his opinions, and giving point to his sentiments. His brother can set me right if I am mistaken when I express a belief that, at the time when he wrote his story of Death and Dr. Hornbook, he had very rarely been intoxicated, or perhaps even much exhilarated by liquor. Yet how happily does he lead his reader into that track of sensations! and with what lively humour does he describe the disorder of his senses and the confusion of his understanding, put to test by a deliberate attempt to count the horns of the moon!

But whether she had three or four He could na' tell.

Behold a sudden apparition that disperses this disorder, and in a moment chills him into possession of himself! Coming upon no more important mission than the grisly phantom was charged with, what mode of introduction could have been more efficient or appropriate?

But, in those early poems, through the veil of assumed habits and pretended qualities, enough of the real man appears to show that he was conscious of sufficient cause to dread his own passions, and to bewail his errors! We have rejected as false sometimes in the letter, and of necessity as false in the spirit, many of the testimonies that others have borne against him; but, by his own hand—in words the import of which cannot be mistaken—it has been recorded that the order of his life but faintly corresponded with the clearness of his views. It is probable that he would have proved a still greater poet if, by strength of reason, he could have controlled the propensities which his sensibility engendered; but he would have been a poet of a different class: and certain it is, had that desirable restraint been early established, many peculiar beauties which enrich his verses could never have existed, and many accessary influences, which contribute greatly to their effect, would have been wanting. For instance, the momentous truth of the passage already quoted, 'One point must still be greatly dark,' &c. could not possibly have been conveyed with such pathetic force by any poet that ever lived, speaking in his own voice; unless it were felt that, like Burns, he was a man who preached from the text of his own errors; and whose wisdom, beautiful as a flower that might have risen from seed sown from above, was in fact a scion from the root of personal suffering. Whom did the poet intend should be thought of as occupying that grave over which, after modestly setting forth the moral discernment and warm affections of its 'poor inhabitant,' it is supposed to be inscribed that

—Thoughtless follies laid him low, And stained his name.

Who but himself,—himself anticipating the too probable termination of his own course? Here is a sincere and solemn avowal—a public declaration from his own will—a confession at once devout, poetical, and human—a history in the shape of a prophecy! What more was required of the biographer than to have put his seal to the writing, testifying that the foreboding had been realized, and that the record was authentic?—Lastingly is it to be regretted in respect to this memorable being, that inconsiderate intrusion has not left us at liberty to enjoy his mirth, or his love; his wisdom or his wit; without an admixture of useless, irksome, and painful details, that take from his poems so much of that right—which, with all his carelessness, and frequent breaches of self-respect, he was not negligent to maintain for them—the right of imparting solid instruction through the medium of unalloyed pleasure.

You will have noticed that my observations have hitherto been confined to Dr. Currie's book: if, by fraternal piety, the poison can be sucked out of this wound, those inflicted by meaner hands may be safely left to heal of themselves. Of the other writers who have given their names, only one lays claim to even a slight acquaintance with the author, whose moral character they take upon them publicly to anatomize. The Edinburgh reviewer—and him I single out because the author of the vindication of Burns has treated his offences with comparative indulgence, to which he has no claim, and which, from whatever cause it might arise, has interfered with the dispensation of justice—the Edinburgh reviewer thus writes:[3] 'The leading vice in Burns's character, and the cardinal deformity, indeed, of ALL his productions, was his contempt, or affectation of contempt, for prudence, decency, and regularity, and his admiration of thoughtlessness, oddity, and vehement sensibility: his belief, in short, in the dispensing power of genius and social feeling in all matters of morality and common sense;' adding, that these vices and erroneous notions 'have communicated to a great part of his productions a character of immorality at once contemptible and hateful.' We are afterwards told, that he is perpetually making a parade of his thoughtlessness, inflammability, and imprudence; and, in the next paragraph, that he is perpetually doing something else; i.e. 'boasting of his own independence.'—Marvellous address in the commission of faults! not less than Caesar showed in the management of business; who, it is said, could dictate to three secretaries upon three several affairs, at one and the same moment! But, to be serious. When a man, self-elected into the office of a public judge of the literature and life of his contemporaries, can have the audacity to go these lengths in framing a summary of the contents of volumes that are scattered over every quarter of the globe, and extant in almost every cottage of Scotland, to give the lie to his labours; we must not wonder if, in the plenitude of his concern for the interests of abstract morality, the infatuated slanderer should have found no obstacle to prevent him from insinuating that the poet, whose writings are to this degree stained and disfigured, was 'one of the sons of fancy and of song, who spend in vain superfluities the money that belongs of right to the pale industrious tradesman and his famishing infants; and who rave about friendship and philosophy in a tavern, while their wives' hearts,' &c. &c.

[3] From Mr. Peterkin's pamphlet, who vouches for the accuracy of his citations; omitting, however, to apologize for their length.

It is notorious that this persevering Aristarch,[4] as often as a work of original genius comes before him, avails himself of that opportunity to re-proclaim to the world the narrow range of his own comprehension. The happy self-complacency, the unsuspecting vain-glory, and the cordial bonhommie, with which this part of his duty is performed, do not leave him free to complain of being hardly dealt with if any one should declare the truth, by pronouncing much of the foregoing attack upon the intellectual and moral character of Burns, to be the trespass (for reasons that will shortly appear, it cannot be called the venial trespass) of a mind obtuse, superficial, and inept. What portion of malignity such a mind is susceptible of, the judicious admirers of the poet, and the discerning friends of the man, will not trouble themselves to enquire; but they will wish that this evil principle had possessed more sway than they are at liberty to assign to it; the offender's condition would not then have been so hopeless. For malignity selects its diet; but where is to be found the nourishment from which vanity will revolt? Malignity may be appeased by triumphs real or supposed, and will then sleep, or yield its place to a repentance producing dispositions of good will, and desires to make amends for past injury; but vanity is restless, reckless, intractable, unappeasable, insatiable.

[4] A friend, who chances to be present while the author is correcting the proof sheets, observes that Aristarchus is libelled by this application of his name, and advises that 'Zoilus' should be substituted. The question lies between spite and presumption; and it is not easy to decide upon a case where the claims of each party are so strong: but the name of Aristarch, who, simple man! would allow no verse to pass for Homer's which he did not approve of, is retained, for reasons that will be deemed cogent.

Fortunate is it for the world when this spirit incites only to actions that meet with an adequate punishment in derision; such, as in a scheme of poetical justice, would be aptly requited by assigning to the agents, when they quit this lower world, a station in that not uncomfortable limbo—the Paradise of Fools! But, assuredly, we shall have here another proof that ridicule is not the test of truth, if it prevent us from perceiving, that depravity has no ally more active, more inveterate, nor, from the difficulty of divining to what kind and degree of extravagance it may prompt, more pernicious than self-conceit. Where this alliance is too obvious to be disputed, the culprit ought not to be allowed the benefit of contempt—as a shelter from detestation; much less should he be permitted to plead, in excuse for his transgressions, that especial malevolence had little or no part in them. It is not recorded, that the ancient, who set fire to the temple of Diana, had a particular dislike to the goddess of chastity, or held idolatry in abhorrence: he was a fool, an egregious fool, but not the less, on that account, a most odious monster. The tyrant who is described as having rattled his chariot along a bridge of brass over the heads of his subjects, was, no doubt, inwardly laughed at; but what if this mock Jupiter, not satisfied with an empty noise of his own making, had amused himself with throwing fire-brands upon the house-tops, as a substitute for lightning; and, from his elevation, had hurled stones upon the heads of his people, to show that he was a master of the destructive bolt, as well as of the harmless voice of the thunder!—The lovers of all that is honourable to humanity have recently had occasion to rejoice over the downfall of an intoxicated despot, whose vagaries furnish more solid materials by which the philosopher will exemplify how strict is the connection between the ludicrously, and the terribly fantastic. We know, also, that Robespierre was one of the vainest men that the most vain country upon earth has produced;—and from this passion, and from that cowardice which naturally connects itself with it, flowed the horrors of his administration. It is a descent, which I fear you will scarcely pardon, to compare these redoubtable enemies of mankind with the anonymous conductor of a perishable publication. But the moving spirit is the same in them all; and, as far as difference of circumstances, and disparity of powers, will allow, manifests itself in the same way; by professions of reverence for truth, and concern for duty—carried to the giddiest heights of ostentation, while practice seems to have no other reliance than on the omnipotence of falsehood.

The transition from a vindication of Robert Burns to these hints for a picture of the intellectual deformity of one who has grossly outraged his memory, is too natural to require an apology: but I feel, sir, that I stand in need of indulgence for having detained you so long. Let me beg that you would impart to any judicious friends of the poet as much of the contents of these pages as you think will be serviceable to the cause; but do not give publicity to any portion of them, unless it be thought probable that an open circulation of the whole may be useful.[5] The subject is delicate, and some of the opinions are of a kind, which, if torn away from the trunk that supports them, will be apt to wither, and, in that state, to contract poisonous qualities; like the branches of the yew, which, while united by a living spirit to their native tree, are neither noxious, nor without beauty; but, being dissevered and cast upon the ground, become deadly to the cattle that incautiously feed upon them.

To Mr. Gilbert Burns, especially, let my sentiments be conveyed, with my sincere respects, and best wishes for the success of his praise-worthy enterprize. And if, through modest apprehension, he should doubt of his own ability to do justice to his brother's memory, let him take encouragement from the assurance that the most odious part of the charges owed its credit to the silence of those who were deemed best entitled to speak; and who, it was thought, would not have been mute, had they believed that they could speak beneficially. Moreover, it may be relied on as a general truth, which will not escape his recollection, that tasks of this kind are not so arduous as, to those who are tenderly concerned in their issue, they may at first appear to be; for, if the many be hasty to condemn, there is a re-action of generosity which stimulates them—when forcibly summoned—to redress the wrong; and, for the sensible part of mankind, they are neither dull to understand, nor slow to make allowance for, the aberrations of men, whose intellectual powers do honour to their species.

I am, dear Sir, respectfully yours, WILLIAM WORDSWORTH.

Rydal Mount, January, 1816.

[5] It was deemed that it would be so, and the letter is published accordingly.


Letter to a Friend.

Rydal Mount, April 21. 1819.


The letter with which you have honoured me, bearing date the 31st of March, I did not receive until yesterday; and, therefore, could not earlier express my regret that, notwithstanding a cordial approbation of the feeling which has prompted the undertaking, and a genuine sympathy in admiration with the gentlemen who have subscribed towards a Monument for Burns, I cannot unite my humble efforts with theirs in promoting this object.

Sincerely can I affirm that my respect for the motives which have swayed these gentlemen has urged me to trouble you with a brief statement of the reasons of my dissent.

In the first place: Eminent poets appear to me to be a class of men, who less than any others stand in need of such marks of distinction; and hence I infer, that this mode of acknowledging their merits is one for which they would not, in general, be themselves solicitous. Burns did, indeed, erect a monument to Fergusson; but I apprehend his gratitude took this course because he felt that Fergusson had been prematurely cut off, and that his fame bore no proportion to his deserts. In neither of these particulars can the fate of Burns justly be said to resemble that of his predecessor: his years were indeed few, but numerous enough to allow him to spread his name far and wide, and to take permanent root in the affections of his countrymen; in short, he has raised for himself a monument so conspicuous, and of such imperishable materials, as to render a local fabric of stone superfluous, and, therefore, comparatively insignificant.

But why, if this be granted, should not his fond admirers be permitted to indulge their feelings, and at the same time to embellish the metropolis of Scotland? If this may be justly objected to, and in my opinion it may, it is because the showy tributes to genius are apt to draw off attention from those efforts by which the interests of literature might be substantially promoted; and to exhaust public spirit in comparatively unprofitable exertions, when the wrongs of literary men are crying out for redress on all sides. It appears to me, that towards no class of his Majesty's subjects are the laws so unjust and oppressive. The attention of Parliament has lately been directed, by petition, to the exaction of copies of newly published works for certain libraries; but this is a trifling evil compared with the restrictions imposed upon the duration of copyright, which, in respect to works profound in philosophy, or elevated, abstracted, and refined in imagination, is tantamount almost to an exclusion of the author from all pecuniary recompence; and, even where works of imagination and manners are so constituted as to be adapted to immediate demand, as is the case of those of Burns, justly may it be asked, what reason can be assigned that an author who dies young should have the prospect before him of his children being left to languish in poverty and dependence, while booksellers are revelling in luxury upon gains derived from works which are the delight of many nations.

This subject might be carried much further, and we might ask, if the course of things insured immediate wealth, and accompanying rank and honours—honours and wealth often entailed on their families to men distinguished in the other learned professions,—why the laws should interfere to take away those pecuniary emoluments which are the natural inheritance of the posterity of authors, whose pursuits, if directed by genius and sustained by industry, yield in importance to none in which the members of a community can be engaged?

But to recur to the proposal in your letter. I would readily assist, according to my means, in erecting a monument to the memory of the Poet Chatterton, who, with transcendent genius, was cut off while he was yet a boy in years; this, could he have anticipated the tribute, might have soothed his troubled spirit, as an expression of general belief in the existence of those powers which he was too impatient and too proud to develope. At all events, it might prove an awful and a profitable warning. I should also be glad to see a monument erected on the banks of Loch Leven to the memory of the innocent and tender-hearted Michael Bruce, who, after a short life, spent in poverty and obscurity, was called away too early to have left behind him more than a few trustworthy promises of pure affections and unvitiated imagination.

Let the gallant defenders of our country be liberally rewarded with monuments; their noble actions cannot speak for themselves, as the writings of men of genius are able to do. Gratitude in respect to them stands in need of admonition; and the very multitude of heroic competitors which increases the demand for this sentiment towards our naval and military defenders, considered as a body, is injurious to the claims of individuals. Let our great statesmen and eminent lawyers, our learned and eloquent divines, and they who have successfully devoted themselves to the abstruser sciences, be rewarded in like manner; but towards departed genius, exerted in the fine arts, and more especially in poetry, I humbly think, in the present state of things, the sense of our obligation to it may more satisfactorily be expressed by means pointing directly to the general benefit of literature.

Trusting that these opinions of an individual will be candidly interpreted, I have the honour to be

Your obedient servant, W. WORDSWORTH.[6]

[6] Memoirs, ii. 88-91.


Letter to John Peace, Esq., City Library, Bristol.

Rydal Mount, April 8. 1844.


You have gratified me by what you say of Sir Thomas Browne. I possess his Religio Medici, Christian Morals, Vulgar Errors, &c. in separate publications, and value him highly as a most original author. I almost regret that you did not add his Treatise upon Urn Burial to your publication; it is not long, and very remarkable for the vigour of mind that it displays.

Have you had any communication with Mr. Cottle upon the subject of the subscription which he has set on foot for the erection of a Monument to Southey in Bristol Cathedral? We are all engaged in a like tribute to be placed in the parish church of Keswick. For my own part, I am not particularly fond of placing monuments in churches, at least in modern times. I should prefer their being put in public places in the town with which the party was connected by birth or otherwise; or in the country, if he were a person who lived apart from the bustle of the world. And in Southey's case, I should have liked better a bronze bust, in some accessible and not likely to be disturbed part of St. Vincent's Rocks, as a site, than the cathedral.

Thanks for your congratulations upon my birthday. I have now entered, awful thought! upon my 75th year.

God bless you, and believe me, my dear friend,

Ever faithfully yours, WM. WORDSWORTH.

Mrs. Wordsworth begs her kind remembrance, as does Miss Fenwick, who is with us.[7]

[7] Memoirs, ii. 91-2.





From 'The Friend,' Feb. 22, 1810.

It needs scarcely be said, that an Epitaph presupposes a Monument, upon which it is to be engraven. Almost all Nations have wished that certain external signs should point out the places where their dead are interred. Among savage tribes unacquainted with letters this has mostly been done either by rude stones placed near the graves, or by mounds of earth raised over them. This custom proceeded obviously from a twofold desire; first, to guard the remains of the deceased from irreverent approach or from savage violation: and, secondly, to preserve their memory. 'Never any,' says Camden, 'neglected burial but some savage nations; as the Bactrians, which cast their dead to the dogs; some varlet philosophers, as Diogenes, who desired to be devoured of fishes; some dissolute courtiers, as Maecenas, who was wont to say, Non tumulum euro; sepelit natura relictos.

I'm careless of a grave:—Nature her dead will save.

As soon as nations had learned the use of letters, epitaphs were inscribed upon these monuments; in order that their intention might be more surely and adequately fulfilled. I have derived monuments and epitaphs from two sources of feeling: but these do in fact resolve themselves into one. The invention of epitaphs, Weever, in his Discourse of Funeral Monuments, says rightly, 'proceeded from the presage of fore-feeling of immortality, implanted in all men naturally, and is referred to the scholars of Linus the Theban poet, who flourished about the year of the world two thousand seven hundred; who first bewailed this Linus their Master, when he was slain, in doleful verses, then called of him Aelina, afterwards Epitaphia, for that they were first sung at burials, after engraved upon the sepulchres.'

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