« ZurückWeiter »
the consequences brought upon the countries to which convicts are transported.
Independently, however, of these considerations, and on the ground of a moral preference in respect of the criminal, Mr. Wordsworth would inflict death rather than transportation or imprisonment for life :
Ah, think how one compelled for life to abide
On old temptations, might for ever blast.' In the thirteenth sonnet Mr. Wordsworth anticipates that a time may come when the punishment of death will be needed no longer; but he wishes that the disuse of it should grow out of the absence of the need, not be imposed by legislation. We have stated already what is our own belief, and the tenour of the evidence taken in 1836, as to the state of feeling in the country. But if we are in error, or if a change shall take place, and public sentiment shall bear strongly against punishment by death, there will be an amply sufficient, if not an undue, leaning on the part of Judges and Secretaries of State towards a conformity with it, and Juries will in general have a sufficient reliance upon that leaning to encourage them to convict where they ought. And, on the other hand, if the consequence of a premature legislative abolition should be to muitiply crimes to a fearful extent and place life in unusual jeopardy, public opinion might be thrown violently to the other side-the legislation of a weak and short-sighted benevolence might be reversed in the natural course of things by the legislation of passion, or at least by a severe legislation passionately administered—and then our last state would be worse than the first.
• Yes, though he well may tremble at the sound
Of his own voice, who from the judgment-seat
O speed the blessed hour, Almighty God! This sonnet is entitled . Conclusion,' though it is followed by another, entitled “Apology, with the transcription of which we terminate the grave and responsible but welcome task, of bringing before the public opinions of such high authority upon such a momentous theme:
• The formal world relaxes her cold chain
Cheered with the prospect of a brighter day.' We are now about to conclude our remarks on Mr. Wordsworth's Sonnets. It has been our chief object and endeavour, as we have already said, to justify the now nearly universal fame of Mr. Wordsworth's poetry, in the eyes of a few dissentients, whose intellectual rank and position make it both natural and important that they should go along with the world when the world happens to
VOL. LXIX. NO. CXXXVII.
go right. To such men the opinion of the world on poetical matters is not of high authority; nor is it so, as we imagine, to Mr. Wordsworth himself. But there is a distinction to be taken between the world's opinion when it is obtained by captivation, and the same opinion when it has formed itself by slow and difficult growth, and the gradual conquest of prejudice. Lord Bacon says the maxim of Phocion as to moral matters may be well transferred to intellectual—that, if the multitude shall assent and applaud, a man should forthwith examine himself to find wherein he has erred :* but this is to be understood of assent and applause by acclamation, not of the diligent and cultivated approval which grows upon the popular mind, in the first instance from deference to the authority of competent judges, and afterwards from the genuine and heartfelt adoption of that judgment when the better part of the popular mind has been brought to the serious study of what is good. Upon that approval, coming sooner or later, but seldom very soon, the fame of Lord Bacon himself, and of Phocion, and of every other great man rests. In the case of some of the greatest English poets of former times, fame, in the loftiest sense at least of that word, was postponed till it was posthumous. In the case of Mr. Wordsworth it would have been so, had his life not been a longer one than theirs; for it is only within the last few years that the latent love of his poetry, which was cherished here and there in secret places amongst the wise and good, has caught and spread into a general admiration. Had Mr. Wordsworth died, like Shakspeare, at fifty-three years of age, he would have died in confident anticipation, no doubt, of a lasting fame, but without any witness of it in this world. Had he died, like Milton, at sixty-six years of age, he would have seen more than the beginnings of it certainly, but he would not have seen it in all the fulness to which it has now attained. But if he were to live to the age of Methuselah, he would not see the time come when there were no able and learned men indisposed or disqualified, by some unlucky peculiarity, for the appreciation of his poetry: for the human intellect, even when eminently gifted, seems in peculiar cases to be subject to some strange sort of cramp, or stricture, and whilst in the full vigour of its general powers, to be stricken with particular incapacities, which, to those who are not affected by them, are as incomprehensible as the incapacity (which sometimes occurs) of the visual sense to distinguish between red and green. We have known men of acknowledged abilities to whom Milton was a dead letter, or, rather, let us say, in the case of
Optimè traducitur illud Phocionis à moribus ad intellectualia; ut statim se examinare debeant homines, quid erraverint aut peccaverint, si multitudo consentiat et complaudat.'- Novum Organum, i. 77.
whom whom the living letter of Milton fell upon a dead mind ; and one like instance we have known in which Dryden was preferred to Shakspeare. It is often, we are aware, in vain to minister to a mind in this state; but all such are not incurable, and we have been desirous to do what might be in our power to reduce the number of cases.
And there is one caution which we should wish more especially to convey to those who have yet to learn, and who are sincerely desirous to learn, to appreciate Mr. Wordsworth's poetry, and which throughout our remarks it has been our purpose to impress; namely, that it is to be read studiously. Mr. Wordsworth never intended so to write that those who ran might read. To detain for a brief moment these runaway readers is the proper aim of those who are snatching at a transient popularity; and this writing for a cursory perusal has been the bane of literature in our times and the ruin of art. But neither to this aim nor to this way of writing has Mr. Wordsworth ever lent himself. In his earlier efforts we find him wishing to write that which
"The high and tender Muses shall accept
With gracious smile, deliberately pleased ;' and in his valedictory effusion at the end of this volume, in which he speaks of having drawn together and classified the Sonnets, like flowerets
• Each kind in several beds of one parterre,'— he says he has thus disposed them in order that
so placed his nurselings may requite
Studious regard with opportune delight.' Those who read the Sonnets in this studious spirit will not often find that they are detained by the style longer than they would themselves wish to be for the sake of dwelling upon the thoughts. Occasional obscurity there may be; the sonnet is a form of poetry in which style is put under high pressure, and it is no part of our purpose to represent Mr. Wordsworth as an impeccable poet: but a poet who writes for posterity, though he will bestow infinite labour upon perspicuity, will not sacrifice to it the depth and comprehensiveness which, whilst it is indispensable to the truthfulness of his conceptions, may be often irreconcilable with absolute distinctness of expression. Those writers who never go further into a subject than is compatible with making what they say indisputably clear to man, woman, and child, may be the lights of this age, but they will not be the lights of another.
Art. II.-Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas,
and Yucatan. By John L. Stephens. 2 vols. 8vo., pp. 898.
London. 1841. IN N his former publication, · Incidents of Travel in Egypt,
Arabia, &c.,' Mr. Stephens described himself as a young American; and there were throughout the book many indications that he was new to the world: there was, also, that want of taste and steadiness of purpose which accompanies youth; trivial matters were sometimes made too important; there was much uncalledfor expenditure of pathos, and many gay and humorous passages broke down, not from defect of intrinsic merit, but for want of a practised hand to do them justice. Four added years have done great things for the author. The present volumes have all the lively spirit and gay healthy-minded tone of the former ones, with hardly a shade of their faults. There is more steadiness and reality in the tone of the narrative, and the style is more chastened.*
He tells us in his preface that he is indebted to President Van Buren for the opportunity of presenting these volumes to the public;t and that the appointment which he received procured him the protection without which he could not have accomplished the objects of his journey. What was the specific purpose of his special confidential mission' to the government of Central America, he leaves in diplomatic obscurity; but he tells us that it did not require a residence at the capital, and that the object of his mission being fulfilled or failing, he was at liberty to travel.'
Accompanied by Mr. Catherwood, an able draftsman and an experienced antiquarian traveller, he embarked at New York for Balize, on the 3rd of October, 1839; and he contrives before he has fairly left that town to put us in good humour with himself and his volumes. This kindly feeling grows stronger as we proceed; and long before we close the book we look upon its author not only as a very agreeable traveller, but as a familiar friend.
The description of Balize is vividly given; and the quiet easy humour with which he expatiates on his own official dignity shows a light and skilful hand :
* Mr. Stephens's language is correct, clear, and concise, and singularly free from American peculiarities : but we regret to find that the hideous vulgarism of left,' used as a neuter verb, has floated over from Wapping to New York; and that he very often uses the verb to realize, where Addison or Goldsmith would say think, conceive, or understand; a neologism, probably of puritanical origin, for which Webster's Dictionary produces no authority but that of the American divine, Dr. Dwight.
+ The public have received this present very graciously. The American sale of the book reached the number of 12,000 copies within four months from the publication.