Wordsworth as Special Author.
TEXTS AND SELECTED READING.
Wordsworth was a compulsive reviser of his work, so his works often exist in many different forms. General preference these days is for the earlier versions, but the issue is still contentious. See Zachary Leader, Revision and Romantic Authorship (Oxford, 1996), pp.19-77. The still-emerging to-be-standard text is the ‘Cornell Wordsworth’, published by Cornell U.P.. These print diverse versions of the poems, with photographic reproductions of many of the manuscripts, and have made available many early versions for the first time.
Last Poems, 1821-1850, ed. Jared Curtis (1999)
Translations of Chaucer and Virgil, ed. Bruce E. Graver (1998)
Early Poems and Fragments, ed. Carol Landon and Jared Curtis (1998)
“Lyrical Ballads” and Other Poems, 1797-1800, ed. James Butler, and Karen Green (1993)
The Prelude, 1798-1799, ed. Stephen Maxfield Parrish (1993)
The Thirteen-Book Prelude, ed. Mark L. Reed, (1992)
Shorter Poems, 1807-1820, ed. Carl H. Ketcham (1990)
The White Doe of Rylstone, or, The Fate of the Nortons, ed. Kristine Dugas (1988)
The Tuft of Primroses, with other late poems for ‘The Recluse’, ed. Joseph F. Kishel (1986)
The Fourteen-Book Prelude, ed. W.J.B. Owen (1985)
Peter Bell, ed. John E. Jordan (1985)
Descriptive Sketches, ed. Eric Birdsall (1984)
An Evening Walk, ed. James Averill (1984)
“Poems, in Two Volumes”, and Other Poems 1800-1807, ed. Jared Curtis (1983)
The Borderers, ed. Robert Osborn (1982)
Benjamin the Waggoner, ed. Paul F. Betz (1981)
The Ruined Cottage, and The Pedlar, ed. James Butler (1979)
Home at Grasmere (Part First, Book First of 'The Recluse’), ed. Beth Darlington (1977)
The Salisbury Plain Poems, ed. Stephen Gill (1975)
The best text for the poems, for our purposes, is Stephen Gill (ed.), William Wordsworth. The Oxford Authors (Oxford U.P. pbk., 1984), reissued in 2000 as William Wordsworth: The Major Works (World’s Classics). This includes a text of the 1805 Prelude, but for a more thoroughly annotated text, as well as a text of the earlier versions, I recommend Jonathan Wordsworth, Stephen Gill and M.H. Abrams (eds.), The Prelude 1799, 1805, 1850 (Norton, 1979), or The Prelude: The Four Texts, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth (Penguin, 1995). The Norton contains many useful appendices and secondary material, but the Penguin has better notes.
Other editions you may find valuable include the great de Selincourt edition, which, until Cornell is complete is the standard edition by default, and even when Cornell is complete must remain an authoritative text: The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, ed. Ernest De Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (2nd. edition; 5 vols.; Oxford, 1949-54). Accompanying this edition is De Selincourt’s magnificent edition of The Prelude, ed. Ernest De Selincourt, revised by Helen Darbishire (2nd. edition, Oxford, 1959). The later texts are more handily available in William Wordsworth, Poems, ed. John O. Hayden (2 vols.; Penguin English Poets, 1977; often reprinted). Jonathan Wordsworth has also edited the short 1799 Prelude in a volume containing The Pedlar, Tintern Abbey, The Two-Part Prelude (Cambridge U.P., 1985). This is out of print but can often be found second hand in Blackwells.
The standard edition of the prose works is The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W.J.B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser (3 vols.; Oxford, 1974). There is a useful one-volume selection of Wordsworth’s Literary Criticism, ed. W.J.B. Owen (Routledge, 1974); and a decent paperback Selected Prose, ed. John O. Hayden (Penguin, 1988).
The Oxford edition of the letters is now complete: The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years, 1787-1805, ed. Ernest de Selincourt, rev. Chester L. Shaver (Oxford, 1967); The Middle Years, ed. Ernest de Selincourt, rev. Mary Moorman and Alan G. Hill (2 vols.; Oxford, 1969-70); The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. The Later Years, ed. Ernest de Selincourt, rev. Alan G. Hill (4 vols.; Oxford, 1978‑1988); and a last volume,
(1) The Prelude and associated texts.
The Recluse was a philosophical epic, which Coleridge devised for Wordsworth to write (and so to establish himself as the greatest poet of his age) during the spring of 1798. The forlorn attempt to write it would occupy Wordsworth for much of his life. (See J. Wordsworth, Borders of Vision, 340-377; and Gill, Wordsworth: A Life.) First evidence of Wordsworth’s new Coleridgean interests appears in the additions he makes to The Ruined Cottage (look especially at the end of the early poem, in Gill). Wordsworth’s revisions make much more of the Pedlar, the character who narrates Margaret’s story to the poet: accounting for his imaginative wisdom involves Wordsworth returning to tell the story of his upbringing, in a piece of blank verse which we know as The Pedlar (also in J. Wordsworth, The Music of Humanity, 172-183). Three important scraps of philosophical blank verse from this period form an appendix to Gill (676-81; see especially ‘Not Useless do I deem’). Related to the themes of these poems, but referring now to Wordsworth’s own upbringing, is ‘Tintern Abbey’ (1798), published in the 1798 Lyrical Ballads. Then, in Germany in later 1798 and 1799, unable to progress with the epic, Wordsworth discovers himself writing autobiographical verse, trying to persuade himself of his fitness for the great work by examining his credentials: the earliest scrap is called Ms.‘JJ’ (Norton, 485-90; or Penguin Prelude, 3-7, where it is called ‘Was it for this?’); this is written up into the longer poem we know as The Two Part Prelude or The 1799 Prelude (Norton, 1-27; Penguin Prelude, 8-35). An important fragment, ‘Nutting’ (Gill, 153-4), written in late 1798 for the autobiographical poem, is removed from that and published in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads as a separate text; the reasons for its exclusion are interesting to speculate upon.
The two-part Prelude is expanded and re-shaped to form the thirteen-book Prelude of 1805.
‘The Prelude’ was the title given to the autobiographical poem by Wordsworth’s widow: in Wordsworth’s lifetime, it was usually known as ‘The Poem to Coleridge’. Wordsworth came to think of it as a proem or prologue to the real substance of The Recluse, which would be in three enormous parts, the first and third philosophical, and the middle part, a lightening of the pressure (though with no change of theme), a narrative section. This was called The Excursion and was published in 1814: a version of The Ruined Cottage and The Pedlar forms its first book. Almost all that was written of the rest is the first lines of The Recluse part one, book one, called ‘Home at Grasmere’ (Gill, 174-199). The last lines (ll.959-1049) are a very important statement of the message of the great poem: they were published separately in the ‘Preface’ to The Excursion (1814) as ‘The “Prospectus” to The Recluse’ (the clearest critical account of them is in Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 19ff).
(2) Other Poems (all in Gill).
(a) The early works, ‘An Evening Walk’ (1788-9) and ‘Salisbury Plain’ (1793-4; 1795). You may also want to have a look at Wordsworth’s tragedy, The Borderers. This is best read in its early (1797) version in the Cornell volume.
(b) The early poems, ‘Old Man Travelling’ (April-June, 1797), ‘Lines left upon a Yew-Tree Seat’ (April-June, 1797), ‘The Ruined Cottage’ (April, 1797-March, 1798), ‘A Night Piece’ (January-March, 1798), ‘The Old Cumberland Beggar’ (January-March, 1798), and ‘Peter Bell’ (April-May, 1798).
(c) From Lyrical Ballads (1798): ‘Goody Blake and Harry Gill’, ‘The Thorn’, ‘The Idiot Boy’, ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’, ‘Anecdote for Fathers’, ‘We Are Seven’, ‘Simon Lee, the Old Huntsman’, ‘The Last of the Flock’, ‘Expostulation and Reply’, ‘The Tables Turned’ (all written Spring, 1798), and ‘Tintern Abbey’ (July, 1798).
(d) From the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800): ‘Nutting’ (October-December, 1798), ‘A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal’, ‘She Dwelt Among th’Untrodden Ways’, ‘Strange Fits of Passion I Have Known’, ‘Lucy Gray’(all late 1798-early 1799), ‘Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower’ (February 1799), ‘The Brothers’ (1800), ‘Hart-Leap Well’ (early 1800), ‘Poems Written on the Naming of Places’ (December, 1799-October, 1800), ‘Michael’ (October-December, 1800).
(e) From the The Recluse project: ‘Home at Grasmere’ (1800).
(f) From Poems, in Two Volumes (1807): ‘To a Sky-lark’ (March-July, 1802), ‘Alice Fell’ (12-13 March, 1802), ‘Beggars’ (13-14 March, 1802), ‘To the Cuckoo’ (March-June, 1802), ‘My heart leaps up’ (26 March, 1802), ‘To H[artley] C[oleridge], Six Years Old’ (March-June, 1802), ‘To a Butterfly’ (20 April, 1802), ‘These Chairs they have no Words to Utter’ (c.22 April, 1802), ‘Resolution and Independence’ (May-July, 1802); the sonnets, ‘The World is too much with us’ (May, 1802-March, 1804), ‘Great Men have been among us’ (May-December, 1802), ‘ It is beauteous Evening, calm and free’ (August, 1802), ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’ (31 July-3 September, 1802), ‘London, 1802’ (September, 1802); ‘Yarrow Unvisited’ (October-November, 1803), ‘She was a Phantom of Delight’ (October, 1803-March, 1804), ‘Ode to Duty’ (1804-7), ‘Ode’ [‘There was a Time’] (March, 1802-March, 1804), ‘I wondered lonely as a Cloud’ (March, 1804-April, 1807), ‘Stepping Westward’ (3 June, 1805), ‘The Solitary Reaper’ (5 November, 1805), ‘Elegiac Stanzas’ (May-June, 1806), ‘A Complaint’ (c. December, 1806), ‘Gipsies’ (c.26 February, 1807).
(g) The Excursion (1814). Have a look. Compare Book I with The Ruined Cottage.
(h) From Poems (1815): ‘Yew-Trees’ (1811-14), ‘Yarrow Visited’ (September, 1814).
(i) From The River Duddon … and Other Poems (1820): ‘Ode. Composed Upon an Evening of Extraordinary Splendor and Beauty’ (1817), ‘The River Duddon; Conclusion’ (1818-20).
(j) Later poems: ‘On the Power of Sound’ (1828-1829), ‘Yarrow Revisited’ (Autumn, 1831), ‘Airey-Force Valley’ (September, 1835), ‘Extempore Effusion upon the Death of James Hogg’ (November, 1835).
With the ‘Preface’ to The Excursion (see above), the most important piece of his literary prose is the ‘Preface’ to Lyrical Ballads (1800), and don’t overlook the important additions made by Wordsworth in the edition of 1802. Also: the ‘Note’ to ‘The Thorn’ in the 1800 Lyrical Ballads, and the ‘Preface’ and ‘Essay Supplementary’ to the Poems of 1815. All these are in Gill. The Essays on Epitaphs are also impressive. For Wordsworth’s politics, the important texts are ‘Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff’ and ‘The Convention of Cintra’.
The most popular prose work in his day was his Guide to the Lakes, an immensely influential contribution to Lake District literature, and still a marvellously evocative piece of writing.
Wordsworth: Some Preliminary Critical Readings.
(i) First Readings.
M.H. Abrams, ‘Two Roads to Wordsworth’; in (ed.), Wordsworth: A Collection of Critical Essays (1972), ed. M.H. Abrams; also in his The Correspondent Breeze. Essays in English Romanticism (1984).
Donald Davie, ‘Diction and Invention: Wordsworth’; in his The Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952).
- Geoffrey H. Hartman, ‘Nature and the Humanisation of the Self in Wordsworth’ (1970); in Abrams, English Romantic Poets.
Graham Hough, ‘Wordsworth and Coleridge’; in his The Romantic Poets (1953).
Thomas McFarland, ‘The Symbiosis of Wordsworth and Coleridge’; in his Romanticism and the Forms of Ruin. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Modalities of Fragmentation (1980).
Christopher Ricks, ‘Wordsworth 1’ and ‘Wordsworth 2’; in his The Force of Poetry (1984).
James Smith, ‘Wordsworth: A Preliminary Survey’; in Scutiny 7 (1938).
Jonathan Wordsworth, ‘William Wordsworth, 1770-1969’; in Proceedings of the British Academy 55 (1969), 211-228. Also in M.H. Abrams (ed.), English Romantic Poets. Modern Essays in Criticism (second edition, 1975).
(ii) Some Classic criticism of Wordsworth.
The handiest collection of famous criticism of Wordsworth is Graham McMaster (ed.), William Wordsworth. A Critical Anthology (Penguin, 1972); but there are many other places where the famous pieces appear.
- William Hazlitt, ‘My First Acquaintance with Poets’ (1823; remembering 1798).
- Review of The Excursion (1814); collected in The Round Table (1817).
- ‘Mr Wordsworth’; in The Spirit of the Age (1825).
- Walter Pater, ‘Wordsworth’; in Appreciations (1889).
- Mathew Arnold, ‘Wordsworth’ (Introduction to Poems of Wordsworth, 1879).
- A.C. Bradley ‘Wordsworth’; in Oxford Lectures on Poetry (1909).
- Leslie Stephen, ‘Wordsworth’s Ethics’; in Hours in a Library, third series (1879).
Secondary Reading: A Selected List.
Stephen Gill, William Wordsworth. A Life (1989).
2. The Relationship with Coleridge.
H.M. Margoliouth, Wordsworth and Coleridge 1795-1834 (1953).
R.L. Brett, ‘Wordsworth and Coleridge’; in Brett (ed.), S.T. Coleridge. Writers and their Background (1971).
‘The Symbiosis of Wordsworth and Coleridge’; in Thomas McFarland, Romanticism and the Forms of Ruin. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Modalities of Fragmentation (1980).
Lucy Newlyn, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and the Language of Allusion (1986).
Nicholas Roe, Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years (1988).
Seamus Perry, Coleridge and the Uses of Division (1999), chapter five.
3. Intellectual Background and History of Ideas.
Basil Willey, The Eighteenth Century Background (1949; on the idea of nature).
Part Two, chapters one and two, in Jonathan Wordsworth, The Music of Humanity (1969; on the One Life and unitarianism).
Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels, and Reactionaries (1981; political).
James Engell, The Creative Imagination: Enlightenment to Romanticism (1981).
Graham McMaster (ed.), William Wordsworth. A Critical Anthology (1972) contains a good selection of the most important responses: see especially Pater, ‘Wordsworth’ (Appreciations, 1889); Arnold, ‘Wordsworth’ (Introduction to Poems of Wordsworth, 1879); and Bradley (Oxford Lectures on Poetry, 1909). Contemporary reviews are well worth looking at are and are best consulted in * Robert Woof, ed., William Wordsworth: The Critical Heritage (2001). For an excellent overview of the traditions of Wordsworthian criticism, see ‘Two Roads to Wordsworth’; in M.H. Abrams (ed.), Wordsworth. A Collection of Critical Essays (1972); also in Abrams, The Correspondent Breeze. Essays in English Romanticism (1984).
Chapter, ‘Sense in The Prelude’, in William Empson, The Structure of Complex Words (1951).
M.H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1953). Excellent on Wordsworth’s prose and on its sources: use the index.
John Jones, The Egotistical Sublime (1954).
Robert Mayo, ‘The Contemporaneity of the Lyrical Ballads’, P.M.L.A. 69 (1954).
Chapter in Donald Davie, Articulate Energy (1955).
W.W. Robson, ‘Resolution and Independence’; in John Wain (ed.), Interpretations (1955).
Jonathan Bishop, ‘Wordsworth and the “Spots of Time”’, E.L.H. 26 (1959).
Chapter in Harold Bloom, The Visionary Company (1962; 1970).
Herbert Lindenberger, On Wordsworth’s ‘Prelude’ (1963).
* Geoffrey H. Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry 1878-1814 (1964).
-‘ Inscriptions and Romantic Nature Poetry’ (1965); in Hartman, TheUnremarkable
* Jonathan Wordsworth, The Music of Humanity (1969: especially on ‘The Ruined Cottage’ and ‘The Pedlar’, and on the influence of Coleridge’s Unitarianism).
W. J. B. Owen, Wordsworth as Critic (1969).
* Chapter one (and more) from M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism. Tradition and
Revolution in Romantic Literature (1971).
** Mary Jacobus, Tradition and Experiment in Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads 1798 (1976).
* Jonathan Wordsworth, William Wordsworth: The Borders of Vision (1982).
Paul de Man, ‘Intentional Structure of the Romantic Image’ (and other essays); in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (1984; deconstruction).
Kenneth R. Johnston, Wordsworth and the ‘Recluse’ (1984).
Christopher Ricks, The Force of Poetry (1984): ‘Wordsworth 1’ and ‘Wordsworth 2’.
David McCracken, Wordsworth and the Lake District: A Guide to the Poems and their Places (1984).
Marjorie Levinson, Wordsworth’s Great Period Poems (1986; new historicist).
Nicholas Roe, Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years (1988; historical).
Jonathan Bate, Romantic Ecology. Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (1991; ‘eco’).
* Stephen Gill, Wordsworth. The Prelude (1991).
* David Bromwich, Disowned by Memory (1998).
Stephen Gill, Wordsworth and the Victorians (1998).