Rousseau, Godwin, and Wordsworth

WORDSWORTH’S early life presents a remarkable parallel to the position of magnanimous youth to-day. His world, like ours, was a scene of conflict between discredited institutions and a new spirit, which sent men back to first principles. He had not himself experienced the worst that the old order could inflict, but he perceived its injustice and sympathized with its victims. He studied with an open mind the new philosophy, which rehabilitated the doctrines of human perfectibility and equality, and the doctrine of the supreme claim of reason over habit. Yet he was fully conscious of the danger, not only to public tranquillity, but to culture, which was involved in abandoning the settled courses. It is true that he came, or seemed to come, at last, to a conviction that the old was worth keeping; but he never really gave up the intellectual method of his young manhood.

The moral history of the nineteenth century is the record of a slow recovery of buoyancy after a profound shock of disappointment. The Revolutionary hope, the ensuing despair, and the beginning of recovery, were felt more keenly by Wordsworth than by any other soul. With the superb self-assurance of a great artist, he made his own experience the image of his time, and to him we owe the one permanent, universal history of the French Revolution in its effect on the mind of man.

He is most interesting, and to our newly-awakened age most instructive, as he stood in the last decade of the eighteenth century, with the light of social hope beaming in his eyes. As he was then most courageous, perhaps, too was he then nearest the truth; for of that fair lady it may certainly be affirmed that faint heart never won her.

Wordsworth’s early life was by no means uneventful. If contact with supremely important public affairs and intimacy with great spirits make a life eventful, we may say, indeed, that no other English poet, since the years when Milton sat at the council table with Cromwell, has undergone experiences so heart-stirring as those which came, in a short time, to the quiet young man from the north country. What would not any student of history give to have walked across France in the inspiring summer of 1790? In the calendar of great days, what lover of literature would not mark as memorable, above all others, one on which he had met Coleridge and won his heart forever? How many occurrences in any man’s life could be reckoned so notable as making friends with Charles Lamb?

These years of Wordsworth’s personal history had all the charm of adventure and romance, together with a spice of danger; and furthermore he touched, as with his bare hand, the potent, coils that were generating light and heat for a world that was to move faster than ever before, and through clearer spaces. His poetry yields sustenance to old and young, to the ignorant and the well-informed, but can be really appreciated only by those who have entered into its spirit in two ways, by natural sympathy with his mode of thought, and by knowledge of his life.

One of the most decisive periods of that life was the thirteen or fourteen months of his second visit to France. From the seclusion of Hawkshead, the sheltered luxury of Cambridge, the slow pace and quiet tone of English and Welsh parsonages and country-houses, he stepped, in a single day, into the brilliancy, the hardness, the peril and excitement of revolutionary France. The contrast would have been stimulating at any time; in 1791 it was almost overpowering.

His sojourn in France enabled him to gather into the solidity of a system those faint impulses of love for humanity which were stirring in him already. His doubts of the validity of the religion in which he had been brought up were now confirmed. His implicit republicanism was strengthened into an explicit political creed. His faith in the paramount excellence of his own country was shaken. Thus was immensely widened the scope of his ‘civism,’ to use a word more current then than now; for the step from mere traditional enthusiasm for one’s country to a love that embraces one’s own country and another is immense.

Had these months of his life been spent at Cambridge or in London or in the Lake country, he could never have written the Prelude, which without the ninth, tenth, and eleventh books would be like a play in which the hero should never face his ‘problem’; there would be no Excursion, no fragment of a Recluse. In like manner one may say, despite the ardent protest of Mark Pattison, that Milton never could have written Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes had he not laid aside his ‘singing robes’ for a season in order to prompt his age to quit their clogs,

By the known rules of ancient liberty. The strain to which Milton subjected himself for his country’s sake lasted more than twenty years; in Wordsworth’s case the crisis was neither so sharp nor so prolonged, but it was more complicated, and perhaps more harassing.

Unfortunately his first biographer, to whom we are so deeply indebted for facts that would otherwise have been forever lost, either had very little material for the years 1790 to 1796, or thought fit to suppress much that a discreet and reverent interest would now desire to be acquainted with. And the poet himself deemed that he had done enough to satisfy posterity in writing the Prelude. He tells us little about his external relations during his French sojourn, and knowledge of them would be extremely valuable to all students, not only of Ids life and poetry, but of the history of human progress. Even had he been no poet, but only the clear yet passionate observer that he was, his experiences would rank with the most precious documents of the Revolution.

It has often been suggested that facts were suppressed by his family, among whom were numbered several eminent churchmen and a Master of Trinity. Wordsworth himself in his old age may have been unwilling to let the world know, except in the very general terms which he employs in his autobiographical poem, how extreme were his opinions and how irregular, perhaps, was his conduct, as Compared with the standards to which he subsequently conformed. But if mere inference is at all permissible in such a matter, no one can be justly censured for thinking that the agony and gloom of his spirit for several years after his return from France indicate that during his stay there he identified himself more completely with the Revolutionary cause, and with French life, than either he or his nephew, the Bishop of Lincoln, was willing to admit in plain terms.

There was one influence to which he was exposed even before he left England and which unquestionably continued and deepened on the other side of the Channel. Wordsworth was never a browsing reader. In the course of his long life, so uncommonly exempt from petty cares and interruptions, he read much, to be sure, but not aimlessly. He went to books as to a task. His diction, even if we had not the evidence of his sister’s Grasmere Journal, would show that he studied Chaucer and the Elizabethan and Jacobean poets with extreme care. He found pleasure especially in books of travel and description. He was familiar with much classical and Italian literature. Books to him were ‘a substantial world,’ very real, as real almost as living persons, and therefore not to be lightly treated. Amid their pressure, as amid the unremitting urgency of friends, he still preserved his independence, and, on the whole, no other great poet is so little indebted to books. He reproached himself for his idleness during his months of leisure after leaving college.

One author, however, he almost certainly read before the close of 1791; and, curiously enough, this was a writer who himself had been indifferent to books. Rousseau it is, far more than any other man of letters, either of antiquity or of modern times, whose works have left their trace in Wordsworth’s poetry. This poor, half-educated dreamer, just because he was poor, halfeducated, and a dreamer, found his way to the centre of his age, the centre of its intellectual and emotional life. And here all original and simple souls met him. They were drawn thither by the same power that drew him, by a desire to return to nature. Exaggeration apart, and thinking not so much of the systematic working-out of his views, which was generally too abstract and speciously consistent, as of their origin, purpose, and spirit, one must perceive their truth. They are as obviously true now as they were startlingly true when first uttered.

They could not have seemed novel to Wordsworth, who was prepared for them by having lived with lowly people, of stalwart intelligence and sound morals, in the village of Hawkshead. Originality often consists in having remained unconscious of the ordinary departures from simple and natural ways of thought. A person who has been brought up to know and speak plain truth appears original in perverse and artificial society.

We can imagine Wordsworth becoming, without the aid of Rousseau, very nearly what he did become. Nevertheless, the points of agreement are too numerous to be the result of mere coincidence. Had Rousseau been less occupied with general ideas, had he been dominated by a poet’s interest in what Blake called ‘minute particulars,’ it is not too fanciful to suppose that he would have chosen subjects like those which Wordsworth took from ‘familiar life’; and an examination of Rousseau’s language shows a careful preference for the diction of common speech.

Wordsworth’s earliest poems, composed before he had read Rousseau, reveal little of this tendency. It is quite likely that he owes more in this respect to Rousseau than has been yet acknowledged. And in that case the debt should be shared by Coleridge. Whether it was he or Coleridge who took the initiative in the metrical and rhetorical reform which found its first marked expression in Lyrical Ballads, has often been discussed. There can be no doubt that Coleridge would see more quickly than Wordsworth the theoretical consequences and implications of what they had done, and would be the first to suggest formulating a doctrine. But it may be that certain philosophical principles, derived from Rousseau, had already found a lodgment in Wordsworth’s mind. For, after all, Coleridge’s native bent was toward the uncommon, the abstruse, the mystical, the splendid. He adapted himself, with cordial sympathy, to the new idea, of which he perceived the importance. But affection, love of fellowship, and zeal to confer kindness may have carried him much further than he would ever have dreamed of going alone, in the direction indicated by Lyrical Ballads and the critical expositions which form so large and noble a part of Biographia Literaria.

What, in fine, are the distinctive elements in Rousseau? In the first place, we recognize in him the prevalence of reverie as a mode of thought. Reverie is an inactive, unsystematic kind of meditation, distinguished from logical processes of discourse by the absence of consciously perceived steps. It is in so far unsatisfactory that the results cannot be determined beforehand, and the movement cannot be retraced backward, as one would ‘prove’ a result in arithmetic. It has, however, an advantage over the ordinary kind of philosophic speculation, — ordinary at least in the occidental world, — in that it involves a more complete merging of the thinker in his thought, engaging his sentiment and giving him a spiritual rather than a corporeal approach to objects of sensation. In reverie a person seems to touch, taste, smell, hear, and see by a reflex disturbance of the organs, or physical reminiscence. Reverie is thus almost sensuous. Furthermore, it is not discursive, it does not characteristically tend to movement, it is static. It discloses to the mind what the mind already contains, but discovers no new subjects of thought. It arouses, arranges, unifies the elements of one’s soul, and the dreamer may emerge from his dream with a truer knowledge of himself and a more definite purpose. External events and objects are not primary essentials of this state, though they may induce or stimulate it. This is truly the poetic process, and Rousseau, in all his most, original, vital, and characteristic passages, is a poet. We are reminded when we read them of Wordsworth’s remark, ‘ Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity.’

A second element in Rousseau is his desire to simplify, to reduce the number and complexity of experiences and ideals. The mode of reverie always tends to concentrate and unite the multitude of concepts which have come into the dreamer’s mind from many and diverse sources. To one who contemplates in this way, all dispersion of energy is painful and repugnant. So it was with Rousseau. The tragedy of his life, and the cause of his madness, was an abnormal shrinking from being torn asunder, as all men must be continually torn asunder, by the demands of other people.

Contrast with this Voltaire’s joy of combat, his enthusiastic readiness to give his time and talents to others, his radiant sociability. The danger that besets a poetic temperament, the danger of excessive introversion, of shrinking from the expense of spirit in a waste of external reality, was absent in Voltaire’s case, but lurked in the very heart of Rousseau. Nevertheless, when applied to things outside himself, to the social problem, the domestic life, the politics, the religion of his ago, Rousseau’s desire to simplify gave him the master-touch. He laid his finger on the racked nerves and prescribed quiet, concentration, and simplicity.

But this meant revolution. For the habits and laws of society had been made on a different principle. ‘The impulse to shake off intricacies is the mark of revolutionary generations,’ says John Morlev, ‘and it was the startingpoint of all Rousseau’s mental habits, and of the work in which they expressed themselves. . . . Simplification of religion by clearing away the overgrowth of errors, simplification of social relations by equality, of literature and art by constant return to nature, of manners by industrious homeliness and thrift, — this is the revolutionary process and ideal, and this is the secret of Rousseau’s hold over a generation that was lost amid the broken maze of fallen systems.’ Rousseau’s discourses, ‘ Whether the Restoration of the Arts and Sciences has tended to purify Manners,’ and ‘On the Sources of Inequality among Men,’ show by their very titles the sequence of his thought, and how the idea of simplification leads to the idea of equality.

Now, inequality is a sign and a cause of unstable equilibrium. Where inequality exists there is constantly a pressure to restore the balance. He, therefore, who desires that life shall be simple, and that men shall attain, as nearly as possible, a level of opportunity, loves permanence and is the true conservative. Moreover, one who thinks by means of reverie is by this peculiarity inclined to prefer permanence to change. The ruminative process is slow. Its objects are lovingly retained and caressed. Self as an active agent seems to the dreamer to be of less consequence than self as a receptive, passive organ, inwardly transforming and assimilating what comes to it. By this persistent association of self with the objects of contemplation, the latter become infused with life from the former. They lose their difference. They become humanized. Harmony is thus established between the poet or dreamer and the world which has so long been his world. He endows it with his own consciousness. He sympathizes with it, after first projecting himself into it. And by a dangerous turn, the world, or rather so much of it as he has thus appropriated, may become his accomplice, and his flatterer. We have here, perhaps, the clue to that practice which Ruskin termed ‘the pathetic fallacy,’ the practice of reading into nature feelings which are not properly nature’s but man’s. Possibly, too, we have here an explanation of the calm egoism of many poets.

But, to continue our attempt to analyze Rousseau, it must be apparent that the permanent is the natural; the truly permanent, I mean, which in the long run holds out against all artifice. And the natural qualities of human beings are common to nearly all. To the many, then, and not to the privileged or the perverted few, must he go who would understand life. This conviction, proceeding from his habit of reverie and his love of simplicity, is the third characteristic of Rousseau. Being a child of the people, knowing their soundness and vigor, he felt no surprise in connection with such a principle, and set it forth as self-evident in his books. But it surprised Europe. To him it was a matter of course that wisdom should be justified of all her children; securus judicat orbis terrarum. There was nothing new in this conviction. It has, no doubt, been held always by nine tenths of the human race. But it was new in a man of letters. It was not the opinion of cultured people. To culture as a process of distinction, Wordsworth, too, showed repugnance at Cambridge and in his London life. He who was to write

Of joy in widest commonalty spread,

scarcely needed the formulas in which Rousseau stated the instinctive faith that was in them both. The social aspect of the French Revolution, its glorious recognition of equal rights and common brotherhood, seemed to him—so gracious had been the influences of his boyhood—only natural, and he consequently sings: —

If at the first great outbreak I rejoiced
Less than might well befit my youth, the cause
In part lay here, that unto me the events
Seemed nothing out of nature’s certain course,
A gift that was come rather late than soon.

A fourth quality of Rousseau is his intense individualism. Men in a state of nature, in close contact with the earth, with animals, and with other men not overpoweringly different from themselves, have to rely on their own resources. A brooding, introspective person in such circumstances is liable to form a very high, if not an exaggerated, estimate of his own consequence. He is more likely to acknowledge the dependence of man upon nature than the solidarity of men with one another. The political views of Rousseau, as stated, for example, in The Social Contract, are extremely individualistic. They are based on the assumption that society was originally anarchical, a collection of independent persons or families. And the individual, not having been a coördinate part of a preëxisting harmony, still retains, as it were, the right of secession. He has merely entered into a pact with other free and independent beings, and his surrender of some of his liberty may be only for a time. As has often been pointed out, this conception would hardly have been possible in a Catholic. It was ultra-Protestant. It was Calvinistic. Wherever the influence of the Genevan Republic has been strongest the spirit of independence has been most active. Ruthlessly disintegrating in its effect upon large political combinations, this influence has often been productive of manly fortitude and self-reliance in smaller bodies. The histories of the Netherlands, of Scotland, of the North of Ireland, of England in the seventeenth century, of the American Revolution and of the American Civil War, have their beginnings in Geneva. Considering Rousseau’s origins, it is easy to understand his restiveness under restraint, his horror of patronage, his association of human strength, not with union among men, but with the wild and stern aspects of nature.

Wordsworth, with his Anglican training, never went to the individualistic extreme in his love of liberty. Even when most rebellious against the spirit of his bringing-up and his environment, he still felt that social ties had something of the naturalness and permanence of the external world. He thus acted the mediating part of a true Englishman, and even, one might say, of a true Anglican, by trying to preserve historic continuity without surrendering the right of private judgment.

Rousseau reasoned more trenchantly. But trenchant reasoning, in the complex field of social relations, is peculiarly liable to error. The natural, which is permanent, is also rational, and the rude popular way of arguing from analogy and precedent is therefore, after all, a sort of reasoning. Thus Wordsworth was not less rational than Rousseau, though in him pure reason was steadily counterbalanced by instinct. In Rousseau there was rarely an equilibrium between the two. He was alternately swayed by the one or the other. He, at times, surrendered himself to reverie and earned the name of sentimentalist; and, again, he was seduced by the speciousness of abstract reasoning, and has therefore, perhaps not altogether unjustly, been called a sophist. Wordsworth, as became a poet, did not thus separate his mental processes. His reverie was more like reflection, it had more of a rational, discursive quality than Rousseau’s; and his reasoning was less abstract, it never lost touch with things and events. As Edward Caird, using the method and language of Hegel, put the case, Wordsworth ‘transcends’ Rousseau, reconciling his contradictions in a higher plane.

He who believes that tillers of the soil and those in walks of life but little removed from them, — that is, the majority of mankind, — are leading natural and therefore rational lives, and that their social laws are permanent, and therefore not wanting in authority, is not likely to be made unhappy by the outbreak of a revolution which promises to restore the artificially disturbed balance of human power and happiness. Rousseau’s message, notwithstanding the final gloom of his life, was one of gladness. More than any other feature of the Revolution, Wordsworth too felt its joy. It is needless to narrate how public events in France disappointed him. Suffice it to say that modern readers who take their tone from Burke are liable to overlook the fact that the most generous souls in England felt exalted where Burke was depressed, and downcast where Burke began to revive. In Wordsworth’s case the discouragement was profound, for his hopes had been very high. But he stubbornly refused to abandon the republican cause. Through six or seven years, in the face of bad news and the martial rage of his countrymen, he clung to his principles, mastering his grief as best he could.

In truth, he rose above the storms of circumstance by establishing his life, for a time, upon the principles of William Godwin. This is a fact which no biographer of the poet has ventured to deny, though many attempts have been made to minimize its importance. I am acquainted with no account of Wordsworth’s life that quite does justice to the strength and attractiveness of the philosophy upon which he disciplined his powerful reasoning faculties, and to which he yielded a brave and obstinate allegiance from his twenty-third to his twenty-eighth year. When one considers that, in the lives of nearly all poets, the third decade stands preëminent as a formative and productive period, it seems impossible to exaggerate the value of Godwin’s ideas to Wordsworth. Wordsworth is admitted to be a great philosophical poet. Yet all his biographers have termed Godwin’s system ‘preposterous.’ Wordsworth, on the other hand, even when he renounced it, fully appreciated how formidable was its character, and how aspiring were its aims.

Godwin’s Enquiry concerning Political Justice would have been an epochmaking work if it had been published in a year less unpropitious to radical speculation than 1793. But books have their fates, and this remarkable treatise has fared ill, for it was from the beginning covered with obloquy, and probably no literary or philosophical work of equal value has been so little read in proportion to its merit. Such is the force of organized prejudice. The ‘ patriotic’ party were not content with crushing the democratic movement in England; they did their best to smother even the memory of it. Not only did they promptly check overt acts of a revolutionary tendency: they entered into a century-long conspiracy to suppress a number of noble intellectual works. Contemptuous disapproval was the means employed, and it succeeded.

The share of Godwin’s Political Justice in the intellectual movement of the nineteenth century was not at all considerable, if we set aside its influence on Wordsworth and Shelley and the Utilitarian school of philosophy. No other fact more strikingly illustrates the reactionary character of political theory in that century. The twentieth seems to have linked itself more directly with the eighteenth than with the nineteenth, which lies between its neighbors like a great, confused parenthesis. More carefully stated, the truth may be that, of two eternally opposed and equally indispensable types of thought, one, represented by Locke and Hume and Godwin, enjoyed, toward the end of the eighteenth century, a degree of general acceptance which it has until lately not enjoyed since; while the other, eloquently preached by Burke and Carlyle, and always more openly, more officially, more popularly held, has been in the meantime dominant. There should be no illusions as to the comparative attractiveness of these two types. It is enough to observe that their merits have not always been fairly contrasted.

Wordsworth, while still seeing man and nature very much as Rousseau saw them, became a disciple of Godwin. This did not mean the acceptance of his master’s political theory alone, but of his system as a whole. Godwin has this at least in common with Locke, that his philosophy is integral. It is rigorously deduced from a few chief principles. Thus its ethics cannot be held separately from its metaphysics, nor can its politics be detached from its psychology. The largest and the soundest parts of the Enquiry concerning Political Justice are devoted to ethical and political considerations, which can, indeed, hardly be distinguished from one another, as it is his dearest purpose to show they should not be. Godwin insists that his conclusions in these departments of practical conduct depend on his doctrines of knowledge and will. He is a determinist, and the only weak element of his book is his insufficient argument for necessity. The many pleas in favor of free will which have suggested themselves to philosophers, as well as to humbler thinkers, he almost wholly fails to take into account.

Equally dogmatic, though not so audacious, because more widely shared, is his belief that experience is the source of all knowledge. ‘Nothing can be more incontrovertible,’ he asserts, ‘than that we do not bring preëstablished ideas into the world with us.’

Justice, he contends, is the whole duty of man. And it seems that his criterion of justice is the greatest good of the greatest number; for he says, ‘Utility, as it regards percipient beings, is the only basis of moral and political truth.’ Reason is the only organ whereby men can discover what is just. ‘To a rational being, there can,’ he says, ‘ be but one rule of conduct, justice, and one mode of ascertaining that rule, the exercise of his understanding.’ Intuition, and every form of mystical illumination, together with all authority, whether of numbers, antiquity, institutions, or‘inspired words,’ are calmly set aside. Morality is a matter of knowledge: ’The most essential part of virtue consists in the incessantly seeking to inform ourselves more accurately upon the subject of utility and right.’

Godwin affirms these principles unhesitatingly, and as if they must of course be admitted by every thinking person to whom they are stated separately, each in its own strength. But he himself supplies, in his practical illustrations, difficulties which might not have occurred to a less acute mind. And it was upon these examples that his opponents seized. For instance, since man is a moral being and all his actions are either just or unjust, he has no rights, that is, no moral options, but only duties. And therefore there is no place for deeds of gratitude, for pardon, for partiality to friends or kindred, for charity, for vindictive punishment. Moreover, a promise has no sanctity, and an oath is an abomination; because ‘an individual surrenders the best attribute of man the moment he resolves to adhere to certain fixed principles for reasons not now present to his mind, but which formerly were.’ Marriage, accordingly, falls under his disapproval, in so far as it is a relation maintained solely in virtue of a promise. Creeds and similar fixed affirmations of belief are an evil, for, he says, ‘If I cease from the habit of being able to recall this evidence [that upon which the validity of a tenet depends], my belief is no longer a perception, but a prejudice.’

Some of these principles are to be found distinctly echoed — sometimes approved and sometimes painfully questioned, but certainly echoed — in Wordsworth’s tragedy, The Borderers; and the slightly earlier poem, Guilt and Sorrow, indicates that he was imbued with Godwin’s doctrine that ‘ under the system of necessity, the ideas of guilt, crime, desert, and accountableness have no place.’ Godwin declares that since the will is not free, ‘the assassin cannot help the murder he commits any more than the dagger.’ Punishment, therefore, should be limited to restraining the criminal from repeating his act of injustice.

It is evident that a society holding such views must reject all but the barest essentials of government, must be reduced to the most extreme individualism. Accordingly we find Godwin insisting that ‘government is an evil, an usurpation upon the private judgment and individual conscience of mankind’; and it may be said of him, as Edward Caird said of Rousseau, ‘His method is always determined by the individualistic prejudices of his time. In morals, in politics, and in religion alike, he goes back from the complex to the simple; and for him the simple is always the purely individual, the subject apart from the object, the man apart from society. He does not sec that in this way he is gradually emptying consciousness of all its contents, and that of the abstract individual at which he must finally arrive, nothing can be said.’

There can be no doubt that much of the constructive thought which found expression in early British Liberalism and in the Constitution of the United States followed this line. To many practical statesmen, as well as to Rousseau and Godwin, it seemed that the sole function of government was to secure liberty of action to the individual. Wordsworth was prepared for Godwin’s uncompromising enunciation of this principle by his previous acceptance of Rousseau’s doctrine that every individual is by nature independent. Godwin never shrank from rigorous deduction, and uttered his thought as clearly as he conceived it. Stated less uncompromisingly, the same idea, of course, is latent in the writings of the American Federalists, and in Bentham and J. S. Mill. All these political theorists, having an eye to practice, checked themselves half-way. But many Continental writers, of whom Tolstoy is the most eminent, have gone as far as Godwin.

It is doubtful whether Wordsworth, or many other of Godwin’s disciples, possessed enough confidence in abstract reasoning to follow him to this extreme conclusion. They gave an eager assent, however, to the less incisive and more practical statement that government, as then existing, reversed ‘the genuine propensities of mind’, and, instead of suffering men to look forward, taught them to look backward for perfection; prompting them ‘to seek the public welfare, not in innovation and improvement, but in a timid reverence.’ This implied approval of progress is certainly an advance upon Rousseau’s advice, founded on ignorance of savage life, to look for perfection among primitive peoples. The antithesis between the retrospective attitude of Rousseau and the forwardstraining attitude of Godwin forced Wordsworth to make a synthesis which embraced the views of both his masters. It is his great distinction to have taken the next step. With Rousseau and Godwin he had looked before and after, and pined for what was not; and he saw absolute perfection neither in the past nor in the future. He read deeply in books of travel, which told of primitive races; he dreamed with philosophers, who predicted a new golden age; and in neither case did he find what he sought. But looking home to men as they are, to life as it may be and often is, here and now, he found

A never-failing principle of joy
And purest passion.

He perceived ‘the unappropriated good’ in natural beauty, in the language of every day, in the souls of plain people; and he sang triumphantly

Of moral strength and intellectual Power;
Of joy in widest commonalty spread;
Of the individual Mind, that keeps her own
Inviolate retirement, subject there
To Conscience only, and the law supreme
Of that Intelligence which governs all.

Let us not forget that to this reconciled mood the poet came by way of what is common to Rousseau and Godwin, their trust in human nature, their belief in equality. Joy is not joy which is not shared by all. For a longer time than has been generally admitted, Wordsworth retained his reverence for reason. In his young manhood he clung with passionate fervor to the pure word of the Revolution.

His creed in those years may be condensed into a few brief articles, which lie more or less scattered in Godwin’s Enquiry. The first concerns prophecy: ‘To conceive an order of society totally different from that which is now before our eyes, and to judge of the advantages that would accrue from its institution, are the prerogatives only of a few favored minds.’ The second concerns prerogative: ‘They are the higher orders of society that find, or imagine they find, their advantage in injustice, and are eager to invent arguments for its defence.’ The third concerns popularity, or the wisdom of common people: ‘The vulgar have no such interest, and submit to the reign of injustice from habit only and the want of reflection. ... A very short period is enough for them to imbibe the sentiments of patriotism and liberty.’ The fourth concerns property: ‘My neighbor has just as much right to put an end to my existence with dagger or poison, as to deny me that pecuniary assistance without which my intellectual attainments or my moral exertions will be materially injured.’ The fifth concerns priests: ‘Their prosperity depends upon the reception of particular opinions in the world; they must therefore be enemies to freedom of inquiry; they must have a bias upon their minds impressed by something different from the force of evidence.’ Every one of these articles is affirmed by Wordsworth, either graphically in his early poems, or dogmatically in his reply to Bishop Watson, or by implication in his letters.

To say that Godwin was lacking in historical feeling is putting the case too negatively. It is more correct to say that he chose not to be hampered by history. He regarded the present with keen perceptive powers and looked to the future. The absence of a background in his picture of human destiny is not due to shallowness of literary culture, but to a deliberate theory. He was one of the last of the philosophers of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. And his method, as regards the use of history, is precisely the method of that whole great movement.

A peculiarity of his own, however, is that he relies altogether upon his individual judgment, and not at all upon the collective judgment of his fellow men, which he mistrusts because it has been institutionally organized and thus clogged with the weight of selfish advantages. And even in his own case, he trusts, or professes to trust, only his perceptive and logical powers, and not at all his affections. He has, however, by no means succeeded in shutting out every emotional influence. To take him at his word in this respect is to do him an injustice. His principles are not cold-drawn. There is no fire more intense than the flame of pure intelligence. It is not conceivable that, without the tremor of inward burning, a man possessed, as Godwin was, with a sense of responsibility could write: ‘The doctrine of the injustice of accumulated property has been the foundation of all religious morality.’ The philosophy of the Enlightenment may well have been too difficult, too sheer, for minds accustomed to beaten tracks in the broad vales of thought, but it was not wanting in emotional splendor. Right or wrong, the man who could affirm that ‘there must in the nature of things be one best form of government,”because ‘the points in which human beings resemble are infinitely more considerable than those in which they differ,’ was moved by a deep moral feeling, as well as by the perception of truths from which most men shrink.

There was an appeal to high-souled youth in his apparently quiet statement: ‘ It is in the nature of things impossible that the man who has determined with himself never to utter the truths he knows, should be an intrepid and indefatigable thinker. The link that binds together the inward and the outward man is indissoluble; and he that is not bold in speech will never be ardent and unprejudiced in inquiry.”The voice of Burke pleading for reverence for the past utters no call more eloquent and none so inspiring. German idealism, to be introduced into England presently by Coleridge, will instill a loftier ambition, but none so sane. Romanticism, more alluring to the artist, will lack something of this moral dignity. Not till Emerson comes, and after him the new leaders of scientific research, will that clear tone be heard again.

Godwinism soon fell into deep and undeserved disrepute. This was not due wholly to its peculiar features, some of which were beyond the comprehension of pragmatical minds, and others objectionable on the very grounds of general utility to which Godwin sought to refer his thinking. It was due chiefly to the inherent unattractiveness of the whole philosophy of the Enlightenment, and to the inauspicious character of the times. Pure rationalism can, perhaps, never be expected to win the favor of more than a small minority, even among reflective men. Its voice is in no age altogether silent, but the echoes nearly always come back mingled with alien notes, the note of classicism, the note of transcendentalism, the note of romanticism.

That Godwin’s system did, through Bentham and Mill, for a while at all events, and in a limited degree, faire école, is indeed remarkable. The age, moreover, was not propitious. The passion of patriotism, lately starved by the disapproval with which thoughtful Englishmen viewed the conduct of their government before and during the American war and throughout the period of state trials between its disastrous conclusion and the opening of the new French war in 1793, the passionate desire to justify England’s past and her present course, made men very impatient of Godwin’s imperturbable criticism. This was no time, they thought, for reform.

Wordsworth, one of the first, as he was the greatest, of its converts, adhered to the Godwinian system for about six years. He met the passion of the hour with his own deep inward passion. He conquered partiality for his country with love of mankind. He rebuked, with a reasoned hatred of war, the elemental instincts of a people in arms. His tenacious and inwardly energetic nature remained rooted in this pure soil until the hardy blossoms of his poetry were about to break into immortal bloom. A pure soil it was, but perhaps a little dry. Wordsworth detached himself from it, slowly and with compunction. His conduct was not apostasy from generous and true principles, but their inclusion in a wider sweep, which embraced not only the future but the present, not only the demands of political justice, but the bounty of nature and the glory of life.