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Criticism On Some Of Coleridge’s Criticisms Of Wordsworth
by [?]

Coleridge also allows himself, for the sake of argument, not merely to assume too hastily, but to magnify too inordinately. Daniel, the poet, really was called the ‘well-languaged’ (p. 83, vol. ii.), but by whom? Not, as Hooker was called the ‘judicious,’ or Bede the ‘venerable,’ by whole generations; but by an individual. And as to the epithet of ‘prosaic,’ we greatly doubt if so much as one individual ever connected it with Daniel’s name.

But the whole dispute on Poetic Diction is too deep and too broad for an occasional or parenthetic notice. It is a dispute which renews itself in every cultivated language;[1] and even, in its application to different authors within the same language, as for instance, to Milton, to Shakspeare, or to Wordsworth, it takes a special and varied aspect. Declining this, as far too ample a theme, we wish to say one word, but an urgent word and full of clamorous complaint, upon the other branch. This dispute, however, is but one of two paths upon which the Biographical Literature approaches the subject of Wordsworth: the other lies in the direct critical examination of Wordsworth’s poems. As to this, we wish to utter one word, but a word full of clamorous complaint. That the criticisms of Coleridge on William Wordsworth were often false, and that they betrayed fatally the temper of one who never had sympathized heartily with the most exquisite parts of the Lyrical Ballads, might have been a record injurious only to Coleridge himself. But unhappily these perverse criticisms have proved the occasions of ruin to some admirable poems; and, as if that were not enough, have memorialized a painful feature of weakness in Wordsworth’s judgment. If ever on this earth there was a man that in his prime, when saluted with contumely from all quarters, manifested a stern deafness to criticism–it was William Wordsworth. And we thought the better of him by much for this haughty defiance to groundless judgments. But the cloak, which Boreas could not tear away from the traveller’s resistance, oftentimes the too genial Phoebus has filched from his amiable spirit of compliance. These criticisms of Coleridge, generally so wayward and one-sided, but sometimes desperately opposed to every mode of truth, have been the means of exposing in William Wordsworth a weakness of resistance–almost a criminal facility in surrendering his own rights–which else would never have been suspected. We will take one of the worst cases. Readers acquainted with Wordsworth as a poet, are of course acquainted with his poem (originally so fine) upon Gipseys. To a poetic mind it is inevitable–that every spectacle, embodying any remarkable quality in a remarkable excess, should be unusually impressive, and should seem to justify a poetic record. For instance, the solitary life of one[2] who should tend a lighthouse could not fail to move a very deep sympathy with his situation. Here for instance we read the ground of Wordsworth’s ‘Glen Almain.’ Did he care for torpor again, lethargic inertia? Such a spectacle as that in the midst of a nation so morbidly energetic as our own, was calculated to strike some few chords from the harp of a poet so vigilantly keeping watch over human life.


[1] Valckenaer, in his famous ‘Dissertation on the Phoenissae,’ notices such a dispute as having arisen upon the diction of Euripides. The question is old and familiar as to the quality of the passion in Euripides, by comparison with that in Sophocles. But there was a separate dispute far less notorious as to the quality of the lexis.

[2] ‘One,’ but in the Eddystone or other principal lighthouses on our coast there are two men resident. True, but these two come upon duty by alternate watches, and generally are as profoundly separated as if living leagues apart.