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I think I may claim for Wordsworth, as also for Hartley Coleridge, that he blended in due proportion these two elements of moral excellence. I have mentioned Hartley Coldridge, because he beautifully touches the point when he speaks of the wise poet
“ Wedding wild impulse to calm forms of beauty,
And making peace 'twixt liberty and duty."
And Wordsworth has on the one hand declared that fixed moral laws are necessary to give moral dignity and consistency to character, and in his Ode to Duty has sung her praise in words which I trust are in the memories of most who hear me:
“ Stern Lawgiver ! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace,
yet, on the other hand, he recognises that what is vital in us is emotional :
“ We live by Admiration, Hope, and Love:
And even as these are well and wisely fix'd,
Excur. B. iv.
Our destiny, our being's heart and home,
And often have I heard him contend against the false philosophy of the maxim, that “Religion ends where mystery begins.”
I shall conclude these reminiscences by shortly meeting two charges which, in connection with Religion, I have known to be brought against Mr. Wordsworth. The first is the charge of Pantheistic doctrine, founded, I suppose, almost exclusively upon a beautiful passage in his Tintern Abbey Lines. I will indulge myself by reading the context, as well because it partly verifies what I have said as to his transition from an absorbing love of nature into a deeper sympathy with man, as because it has given rise to the charge before us. Referring to the days of his early youth, he says:
“For Nature then ...
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
Now I quite agree in an opinion which has been here expressed, that there exists at present in some quarters a tendency to bring this accusation of Pantheism too lightly and too promiscuously. Where the doctrine is held in such a form as denies to Deity personality and will, and confounds the distinction between right and wrong, there indeed it is only a disguised Atheism, and it tends to bring back a
moral chaos. But oftentimes what is so
is only the meeting of the soul in its legitimate excursions with one presentation
rsions with one presentation of that the infinite and incomprehensible God, one time it shines down upon our moral
vast idea of the infinite and incomp which if at one time it shines down
sense like the sun in the firmament, at another time encircles us like the ocean-tide, and pours from all sides its waves into the recesses of our nature. An apostle, let us remember, has bequeathed to us the words,“ in whom we live and move and have our being.” Now Wordsworth, I can testify, was both a firm believer in a personal God-he was indeed a devout Christian worshipper—and was a man in whom the sense of right and wrong acted with singular vigour, engendering an almost exuberant amount of moral indignation, as all familiar with his noble patriotic sonnets will easily believe. It is true that when he wrote the passage I have repeated, his religious opinions were not developed into the form which they afterwards arrived at, and its concluding lines, taken by themselves, can scarcely admit of a satisfactory justification ; but a recent perusal of that most interesting biographical poem, The Prelude, has proved to me that at no time did he identify God and Nature, or hold a laxer moral creed. The Lines written above Tintern Abbey were composed in the year 1798. The early books of The Prelude were written in 1799,* and they contain express recognition of a personal God;t and it is remarkable
* See dates attached to “Wisdom and Spirit of the Universe," (page 62, in one vol. edition,) which is extracted from Book I. of The Prelude, p. 19, and to “ There was a Boy; ye knew him well, ye cliffs." (page 141 in one vol. edition,) which is extracted from Book V. of The Prelude, p. 122.
† See The Prelude, Book II.. pp. 50, 60. Book V., p. 116. The last cited passage speaks of two paramount influences, one, “Nature's self, which is the breath of God," the other, “His pure Word by miracle revealed.”
that the Ninth Book of The Excursion, first published in 1814, commences with a passage just as open to the charge of Pantheism as that which I have read, although it closes with devout acknowledgments of a personal God and of Christian faith, breathed forth, indeed, from the Pastor's mouth, but intended evidently to convey the poet's convictions ; so that in his eyes there was no inconsistency between such a faith and a recognition of the ever-present, everacting “Soul of all the worlds.” I do not hesitate, however, to add these words—let us not in reading a poet's works expect, or even desire, that in all their parts they should conform to a standard of orthodoxy. The record they contain of progress in thought and opinion, whether for good or ill, is one of the most valuable constituents of the works of poets; and those whose powers are the grandest, who in each successive field can make the widest and richest conquests, are often, through the necessary working of their nature, late in arriving at the end of their glorious labours, at the disposing and duly arranging in the Temple of the Supreme of the spoils they have amassed. Remembering that an essential function of the poet is to freshen and to vitalise our thoughts, we shall be wise in allowing him, and in asserting for him, an ample range, a free and large license to report to us his authentic experiences, and we may be assured that the more he is a true poet, the more he understands the conditions of his art, the more certainly will he refrain from disturbing the reverence which is at the foundation of religious faith, and