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DESPONDENCY, THE EVERLASTING NO!
“Sometimes most earnestly he said
Before me shone a glorious world
“From that abstraction I was roused And how?"
“Hence too the folly of this impossible Precept, 'Know thyself;' till it be translated into this partially possible one, Know what thou canst work at. The speculative Mystery of Lifo grew ever more mysterious to me: neither in the practical Mystery had I made the slightest progress, but had been everywhere buffetted, foiled, and contemptuously cast out."
PROBABLY the great University in which he studied was Paris; he spent some time in France, visiting that
country twice during the period of his vacations, the first time in company with a friend and brother collegian, but his second visit he performed alone in 1791– that most eventful year, from the silence and the repose of the Lakes, from the conservative order, or thoughtless frivolity of Cambridge, he plunged into a land where all around were the evidences of revolution, turbulence, and disorder; he was there during the days of the King's imprisonment; of Robespierre's pre-eminence; of the massacres of September; of the disputes between the Gironde and the Mountain; the wild harpies of war were hovering all around the fated nation, and within, the screams of anarchy. Wordsworth at this time was an ardent Republican too; he had pictured before his eyes man independent and virtuous, living among the harmonies of nature, and he had not seen enough of man or cities to break the pleasant spell, and delightful illusion ; he formed intimacies too with some of the leaders of the parties of France; he walked along the banks of the Loire, and meditated far deeper things than had pleased the fancy of Goldsmith by the same rich and verdant river. Through Orleans and Blois, and other districts of France, he was a pilgrim, and again he sped to Paris, and found the horrors ripening there
—those horrors not only haunted him then in his high dark lonely chamber, but during future years they continued even to disturb his dreams.
It has been remarked how critical was his position at this time-a youth ; an orphan; most inexperienced; unused to cities and to the depravities of man: and
here in this great foaming sea of corruption and revolution-alone. How tame must all the lessons of the University have appeared to him compared with those tremendous preachings. He, walking through those cities intoxicated with the cry of Liberty and Blood, receiving all into his moral nature. Here then was something for the daring youth more suggestive than the dizzy crag, or the black tarn among the hillsscenes of horror, and of affright, sounds, thundering along from Rue to Rue,-it is a solemn spectacle that young man walking through the Den of Lions in quiet contemplation, and there gathering food for thought and inspiration, and instruction for the whole mind of the civilized world when all that scenery of colossal crime should have passed away, a clot of gore in the ocean of time. We cannot either sufficiently admire, not merely the bravery and courage that could continue there—for that perhaps was natural to high minded youth, but the cool caution that could escape from the horrors of such a scene, though there is here perhaps more occasion to acknowledge the Preservation of Providence. His family affairs summoned him hastily from Paris, and it was perhaps well that they did so, as he had become intimately associated with the party of the revolution who were cut down by their rivals.
At this time his writings bear testimony that the life was visited by that deep melancholy and sadness which is not unfrequently the lot of the young, but exists most deeply in those of a lofty and poetic tem
perament; it is very noticeable that the early part of our life, our youth and our manhood are frequently spent in the indulgence of a gloomy sentiment, as it is the foliage of summer that makes the deep shade of the arbour and the forest, while winter beams strike through the boughs like keen bright arrows, so the very exuberance of youth creates the pensiveness and the shade.
We are not informed sufficiently of the process of Wordsworth's inner life to give a judgment of the reasons for that melancholy which undoubtedly hangs over his writings at this period, but to such a mind there was enough in the unsettled state of society; in the violence and war which shook all Europe, to account for it, and it is probable too that at this time he had not matured those convictions which were to him at an after period a well of pure clear water. He appears to have felt the unhappiness of doubt without its distinctness. He never lay swooning as many have been doomed to do in the arms of scepticism ; moreover he had on the power of a strong reserve, and it is likely that he did not reveal all the wounds he felt. But his was not a nature to attack the doubt in its citadel, or even to submit to the attack; his mind and heart were too reverent to permit a lengthy residence of those spiritual fiends Doubt and Despair, and hence his writings are much more salutary to the doubter who has braved the conflict, than to the struggler in the battle. For these reasons the grief of Wordsworth does not come to us invested in a definite cause—this may be the case with many who feel, and indulge in a sentiment which yet they cannot describe.
We learn however that his mind hovered over those everlasting problems which every one has to solve for himself; which no one can solve for another. The problems of God-of Providence and Divine Watchfulness
-of the tangled skein of Human Affairs—of the grounds of Human Despondency—the light that shone about him was not cheerful, and Nature, even in her most pleasant aspects ministered rather to a sentiment of grief than of rapture. Manhood would appear to commence with the grief of life; even beneath the affectations of youth there is a gnawing fire of pain. Goethe, Schiller, Byron, innumerable instances illustrate it; so the surplus energy wastes itself—so the passions of youth fret and chafe along—the inquisitive wings beat upwards against the stars, frequently only to plunge back again among the icebergs. The daring and the restless spirit presses on with its sense of independence and zest of life only to return frequently impoverished to its dreary hut. This was not the case with Wordsworth; he neither dared so much, nor did he suffer so much, but he felt-how could he fail to feel, the jarring disproportions of life?—and attempted in his own way to solve the meaning of its agony- its misapprehension, its conflict, and its gloom.
We have again to deplore the scantiness of our materials for a review of this period of the poet's life. His biographer who has perhaps naturally exhibited no sympathy with these early years, has slightly slurred them over; perhaps there existed no materials for a more lengthened notice. Wordsworth was not a jour