Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 10. The Excursion

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

V. William Wordsworth

§ 10. The Excursion

Argument is the process used at wearisome length in The Excursion. This noble poem may be described as a long sermon against pessimism, scarcely disguised by a story. Though different speakers are introduced, their speeches are mere ventriloquism. Wordsworth, as the optimistic Pedlar, or Wanderer, assails Wordsworth as the Solitary, or the late enthusiast of the French revolution, now dispirited. He uses all his eloquence to raise this other self to his own serene mood. The Excursion too often reminds us of the debates between God and Satan at one time set forth in churches for the edification of the people, the rule being that Satan should have the worst of the controversy. It is the same with Wordsworth’s Solitary, who is presented to us in unfavourable colours; his morals are not of the best. And, when he vents his misanthropy, he does not seem to be quite so fearless, cogent and impressive an exponent of his own views as he might have been. We cannot help thinking that, if the author of Cain had been entrusted with the part, he would have made it many times more telling. The worthy pedlar’s triumph would not have been so easily achieved.