Old and New Masters eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 290 pages of information about Old and New Masters.
into a reactionary of this sort.  Burke and Carlyle and Ruskin—­all of them blasphemed the spirit of liberty in the name of duty.  Mr. Dicey contends that Burke’s and Wordsworth’s political principles remained essentially consistent throughout.  They assuredly did nothing of the sort.  Burke’s principles during the American War and his principles at the time of the French Revolution were divided from each other like crabbed age and youth.  Burke lost his beliefs as he did his youth.  And so did Wordsworth.  It seems to me rather a waste of time to insist at all costs on the consistency of great men.  The great question is, not whether they were consistent, but when they were right.  Wordsworth was in the main right in his enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and he was in the main right in his hatred of Napoleonism.  But, when once the Napoleonic Wars were over, he had no creed left for mankind.  He lived on till 1850, but he ceased to be able to say anything that had the ancient inspiration.  He was at his greatest an inspired child of the Revolution.  He learned from France that love of liberty which afterwards led him to oppose France.  Speaking of those who, like himself, had changed in their feelings towards France, he wrote:—­

Though there was a shifting in temper of hostility in their minds as far as regarded persons, they only combated the same enemy opposed to them under a different shape; and that enemy was the spirit of selfish tyranny and lawless ambition.

That is a just defence.  But the undeniable fact is that, after that time, Wordsworth ceased to combat the spirit of selfish tyranny and lawless ambition as he once had done.  There is no need to blame him:  also there is no need to defend him.  He was human; he was tired; he was growing old.  The chief danger of a book like Mr. Dicey’s is that, in accepting its defence of Wordsworth’s maturity, we may come to disparage his splendid youth.  Mr. Dicey’s book, however, is exceedingly interesting in calling attention to the great part politics may play in the life of a poet.  Wordsworth said, in 1833, that “although he was known to the world only as a poet, he had given twelve hours’ thought to the condition and prospects of society, for one to poetry.”  He did not retire into a “wise passiveness” as regards the world’s affairs until he had written some of the greatest political literature—­and, in saying this, I am thinking of his sonnets rather than of his political prose—­that has appeared in England since the death of Milton.




Project Gutenberg
Old and New Masters from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook