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arrive if possible at the central principles of the poet's genius—the roots from whence sprang those glorious branches, and fruitful and blossoming boughs of peculiar thought and fancy, which have made him so illustrious as a teacher and writer.
Thus, then, narrative in the ordinary sense of the word forms but a small portion of the present plan. Dissertation, and Illustration, and Elucidation, are of far more import to it, and however impertinent the office of guide sometimes is, there are those who will be grateful to one who will be, through these many volumes a mental cicerone, halting here and there to say to them, “this is beautiful,”
This volume is called an Æsthetic Biography. It does not take that for life which is regarded as such by ordinary biographies. It regards rather the hidden life. Biography usually concerns itself with the seen and the known; the river runs along in the open day, in the bright, clear sunshine. The life of the Statesman-the Warrior-the Philanthropist, cannot be usually Æsthetic; life with them cannot be an art; but this life is fed by unseen brooks and streams; they reflect shadows from the dim, obscure nooks of little village bays and solitary spots. It is true that every man has a life hidden from the world ; nor is it the business of the world, either the prating, or the thinking, or the reading world to attempt to draw that life from its obscurity. But there are some men who have unfolded their life to us ; their secret and hidden life, in their writings, and we find in their life the working of principles, and we no
tice the influence of inner circumstances. There is a world within a world, which contains within itself the principles of unity, An Æsthetic Biography descends to that world; it does not regard the mental life as umimportant, or less important, but much more so than the outer, since it is the spring and fountain of all outer life. In truth all those dramas and fictions are ästhetic biographies, which unwind through the long soliloquy, and meditation, and conversation, the secret clue of motive. But this is a world of which most people know but little, the world of inner facts,-facts by the bye, usually ignored by Compts and others,—and therefore the actors on the bustling stage of outer life engage the attention most.
Most men feel no interest in tracking the course and the developement of a Passion, and noting it may be how in the kingdom of the mind one tyrannic and dominant Impulse overturns another; how the dynasty of passion perhaps yields at last altogether to the dynasty of Intelligence; or how the empire of passion merges in the anarchy of Crime. How the kingdom of mind has its own various spots of light and shade ; recesses in whose umbrageous solitudes the great thoughts linger and fix their home; and open spaces where the people of fancy and affection pitch their tents; and how all these peoples, sometimes in commotion and sometimes in tranquility, pursue their way through the system of the soul. Now the poet makes us acquainted with all these, for they are his world; he watches their movements; he detects their points of weakness and of strength; he has but little outerworld. Wordsworth for instance, whose memoirs we now propose to run through and link together, had but little Objective history; his Poems are his Life; they are a record of himself; of his own personal and private thoughts. No man depended less on what the outer could do for him, although he allowed the outer world to make an impression on him; say rather he allowed the world to take him wheresoever it listed, but insisted on preserving his own impressions of it, and giving them forth in independent tones and utterances.
For such men as Schiller, or Wordsworth, or Goethe, an Æsthetic or Subjective biography, is the only possible biography.
In the course of the following pages our attempt will be to connect the various portions of our author's history into a life. Biographies are of various characters. We have the Boswellian: a style of biography the interest of which seems to transcend its morality,-in a few exceptional instances it may be true that our ideal does not suffer by the nearness of our approach, and Johnson's is one. Wordsworth himself once remarked to the writer of this volume that “by-and-by the works of Johnson would be principally remarkable and valuable as commentaries on Boswell's life of him.” Wordsworth’s life is interesting as elucidating his works. A great life should be sketched as a painting, or wrought as a piece of sculpture, it should be the result of an acquaintance with the subject of it;-but what acquaintance? There are men who must be seen near at
hand to be painted, others are sketched best from a distance. The writer of this volume lays claim to no more personal knowledge of Mr. Wordsworth than that possessed by thousands, resident both in England and America; he has seen and conversed with him several times, and that is all. Yet it has seemed to him that, availing himself of no special lights, bringing to the work simple reverence, and acquaintance with the Poet's writings, a volume might be produced not needless nor unacceptable to many readers.
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH was born at Cockermouth in Cumberland, on the 7th of April, 1770. Although his father was only an attorney, and his mother the daughter of a draper, his family was ancient, and it was his delight to trace back its history, both on his father's and mother's side, beyond the times of the Norman Conquest. To those who are disposed to believe in and to notice how race perpetuates itself, it is by no means unimportant to follow the course of a family genealogy, nor uninteresting to trace the names of both sides of his family to their Saxon derivative. Some ancient founder of the stock it would seem must have been a Poet too, capable of uttering the Weird, or Word, in a thrilling or worthy manner, and the gift which made the patriarch of the race remarkable descended on the son through the long course of generations.
But William, almost the youngest of the family, was not long to know the benefits and the affections of parental love. His mother died when he was very young, and at fourteen years of age, while he was yet
at school, he lost his father. It is probable that he inherited much of his mother's nature; young as her son William was she seems to have anticipated with maternal prescience the peculiar difficulties to which his temperament might expose him. She had remarked to a friend that of all her five children he was the only one about whose future life she was anxious. He describes himself as being when young of a stiff, moody temperament, daring and perverse; and probably made more perverse by chastisements more frequent than wise. His young days were passed in various places, with his mother's relations at Penrith, or in his father's house at Cockermouth. He has perpetuated and memorialized most of the impressions and doings of those childish days, with old Dame Birkett, to whom he went to school, and for whom and for whose teaching he always expressed a high respect and affection. With him too at the old dame school at Penrith there was a little girl, his playmate and fellow, Mary Hutchinson, who nearly thirty years after was to become his wife. He has also told us with what avidity he read books too in those early years; but more especially when he went from his home at Penrith to Hawkshead, a beautiful and tranquil little village, famous for a school on the foundation of Archbishop Sandys. His days here were important to him:-they nourished in him the love of nature,--they furnished him with images which sprang spontaneously along his verse in after years, and of which he has given to us many instances,--they fostered in him the love of independence, it seems even in that