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which lift the classics above the common herd of books, in which we find little or no connexion with what is permanent either in life or in literature. I do not think such relations need be imperceptible to those of you who know even less Spanish than I do : any more than they are imperceptible to the English readers of Plato or the Bible. It is best, of course, if we can, to know Hebrew and Greek and Spanish. But, with or without the original languages, it is good to know all we can of the classics. We never, I think, needed them more than now. The tremendous years through which we have been living, the grave ordeal through which we have been passing, and are still passing, make us run a risk of imagining that some kind of intellectual and spiritual earthquake has taken place since 1914, and has let in a dividing gulf of sea, cutting in halves the continuous current of human history, so that we of to-day who are on one side of the gulf are altogether separated from the men of yesterday, and all previous yesterdays, who are on the other side. But that is not so. It is only the perpetual illusion of people who live in a time of very great events. Great events change men, of course. But they never really break the continuity of life. At least, if and when they do, as after the fall of the Western Empire, it is a disaster of the first magnitude to humanity. We at least, who are conscious of owing so much to the great tradition of civilization, must feel that to be cut off from the past would be a horror of black darkness and desolation. Against such a fate there is no better safeguard than the reading of the great books which show us man as he was a hundred or a thousand years ago and as he still is to-day. For the precise mission of the classics is just that: to give us a sense of the indestructible continuity of human life. What is most classical in Hebrew literature or Greek is not what belonged to a particular century or a particular race of men. It is what proves that, in spite, as we hope, of progress and purification as the ages pass over it, this old human nature of ours never can altogether disdain its ancestors or fail to perceive that it is their descendant. We grow and change, invent new mechanisms and even discover new truths. But the stuff and stock is still the same, and David's grief for Absalom, and Priam's for Hector, are as real to us to-day as they can have been to their first readers. So with Cervantes. When we read him we soon pass behind the outward appearances and come to feel that we are in no strange country, but in one which is our own. We recognize, perhaps claim, some at least occasional kinship with the saintly follies of Don Quixote, and some more frequent with the simple follies of Sancho Panza. We love them both ; and the priest and the bachelor and the rest with them; and ourselves in them all. After all we are spirit, mind, and body too : and no true classic can be made out of one apart from the others. The greatness of the great novel of Cervantes lies just there : that it has in it the whole of our human nature, a whole which transcends the differences of time and nationality; and that it is therefore in the strictest sense a classic, which is by definition a book at once universal and immortal.
A MISTAKEN VIEW OF WORDSWORTH
MR. HARPER'S Life of Wordsworth is the first which has been written by a man in possession of all the facts and able to use them freely and openly. The poet's nephew wrote his Memoir, perhaps, from still fuller knowledge, but was inevitably prevented by relationship and other considerations from giving all he knew to the public. Frederick Myers's admirable little book is a study, not a biography. M. Emile Legouis's Jeunesse de Wordsworth is excellent so far as it goes, but it deals with only twenty-eight of the eighty years of the poet's life. The only regular Biography is that by Professor Knight which is not well put together, is somewhat inaccurate, and is very far from covering the whole ground.
The field was therefore still open for a final Life of Wordsworth; and it is not much to our credit that it has been left to an American to make the first serious attempt to occupy it. Professor Harper has had great advantages. He has been allowed by the poet's grandson not only to see but to publish much unprinted material, and has received his advice and assistance. He has also been allowed by Mr. Frank Marshall to print a good many new letters of Dorothy Wordsworth, which have the power and charm of everything written by that true woman of genius. The result is a much fuller account than any previous book has given of the generally known facts of Wordsworth's life and character, and a few discoveries of importance, the most surprising of which is the fact, which has amused the profane,
1 William Wordsworth. His Life, Works and Influence. By Prof. G. M. Harper. Two vols. Murray, 1916. This article, or most of it, originally appeared as a review of Professor Harper's book, in the Quarterly Review for July, 1916.
that Wordsworth had a natural daughter by a French woman whom he knew in his Revolutionary days. This long-concealed story has of course given some pleasure to the many people who have been exasperated by the elderly Wordsworth's open and tactless consciousness of his own virtues. But the faithful need have no fears. The story of Annette and her daughter Caroline (of whom, and not of Dorothy, the poet was thinking when he wrote the line
Dear child, dear girl, that walkest with me here,) redounds as a whole very greatly to Wordsworth's honour. What is striking in it is not the fact of a young poet in a foreign country, away from all the restraints of home and family, falling into a connexion of this sort, especially as it appears it was not his fault that it did not lead to marriage. It is rather the fact that he never tried to escape, as he so easily could have done, from the responsibility in which it had involved him. He put himself to the pain of revealing the truth to his sister and afterwards to his wife ; he and they kept up communications with both mother and daughter, and took an active interest in the latter's marriage ; and, when he was fifty and already justly exalted as much by his virtues as by his genius to a peculiar pedestal of honour and even reverence, he took his wife and sister and his disciple Crabb Robinson to see both ladies at Paris. So let the cynics and Bohemians, who always hasten to rejoice at any discovery of vice or weakness in better men than themselves, pause before they assume that this story delivers Wordsworth into their hands. It does not. Taken as a whole, it is a story, not of vice but of virtue ; not of weakness but of strength.1
This discovery is the most striking novelty in Mr. Harper's book. For the rest it tells the familiar story with greater detail and accuracy than it has ever been told before.
1 See Appendix A at the end of this essay.
is much the best Life of Wordsworth in existence. But the final Life it cannot be. The chance of writing that Mr. Harper has missed, partly by lack of sympathy and partly by lack of ability. He is in the first place a mediocre writer. His style lacks force and clearness as well as any kind of distinction. It is respectable but never anything more. Or, as that is an epithet which Mr. Harper particularly dislikes and generally misunderstands, let us call it pedestrian ; and it is often somewhat shuffling and shambling at that. He uses pronouns, for instance, very loosely, and one is not always sure to whom they refer. He is capable of such perverse pedantries as calling Brunswick Braunschweig. One might as reasonably speak of St. John as St. Joannes. There is also a lack of lucidity in his arrangement of his material. He is, for instance, much concerned to assert that The Prelude, as we have it, is not the poem as it was originally written ; and the point is one of interest and importance. But Mr. Harper's method of dealing with it is extraordinary. He repeats the assertion over and over again, to the irritation of the reader who asks for some evidence for it. But he gives no proof, and even in one place implies that he has none to give. 'It is not known', he says once, whether The Prelude was not considerably retouched before Wordsworth's death.' Yet all the while he had the proof which he would not give. A letter of Miss Fenwick's written in 1839 speaks of the poet as working for six or seven hours a day at the 'revising of his grand autobiographical poem”. This may not prove all that Mr. Harper asserts, but it does show that The Prelude, as we have it, is not precisely the poem read to Coleridge in January 1807; and, if Mr. Harper had quoted it at once instead of at the very end of his book, he would have saved himself some trouble and his readers some irritation.1 Another reason why this cannot be the final Life of
1 See Appendix B at the end of this essay.