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EDITED WITH AN INTRODUCTION
NOWELL C. SMITH
LATE FELLOW OF NEW COLLEGE, OXFORD
WORDSWORTH did not write much prose, but he wrote enough to make one inquire why he did not write more. He lived to be eighty, in full possession at least of those faculties which are requisite for producing ephemeral literature. Wholly uninterested in the gossip, the personal and party trivialities, which almost exhaust the definition of politics for the majority of those who read or write the newspapers, he nevertheless took a keen interest in the larger aspects of public affairs, in the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Abolition of Slavery, Catholic Emancipation, Parliamentary Reform, the Poor Law, Factories, Education. He held his views strongly, and had the didactic spirit. He was no student of philosophical writers, nor trained in philosophical method ; but the bent of his mind was philosophical. Facts, whether in history or within the scope of his personal experience, were of interest to him solely so far as they suggested or illustrated principles : but he had the poet's distinctive habit of embodying principles in concrete facts, He was, as his poems show, and as he stated in no ambiguous terms, before all things desirous of teaching those principles which he held himself. Here, then, is one answer to our inquiry, which may at first sight seem sufficient. His poetry is his teaching. His life was devoted to the cultivation and the use of this great gift, of which he was as seriously and reverentially conscious as a prophet or a saint may be of his mission. And this would be a sufficient answer, if, like Tennyson, he had written practically no prose, or had died young, like Keats. But his output in prose, though small, is not inconsiderable. As a young man, filled with the hopes engendered by the beginning. of the French Revolution, he published an open letter to Bishop Watson of Llandaff, in defence of republican principles (1793). In 1798 appeared the Lyrical Ballads, with its short preface or Advertisement, which is the first of the writings belonging to the class of literary criticism, which form the contents of the present volume. The second edition of the Lyrical Ballads with a long preface appeared in 1800, and to the third edition in 1802 was added an Appendix on Poetic Diction. In 1808-9 the Convention of Cintra evoked a political pamphlet, comparable to the great pamphlets of Burke in length, in earnestness, in intellectual grasp, even at times in eloquence, though far inferior in arrangement, fluency, and the mastery which comes from experience. In the same year Wordsworth contributed a moral essay to The Friend, dealing with the question, raised by an article of Christopher North, signed Mathetes,' of the spiritual and intellectual dangers which beset ardent and intelligent youth on its entrance into the world
of manhood. In the following year (1810) he wrote an introduction to a book of views of the
of the English Lakes, which was subsequently enlarged and published separately. This is not a guide-book in the complete modern sense ; but it is not merely the best guide to the appreciation of the scenery which it describes, and the source of much that is best in more recent guide-books, but the best account in existence of the principles, if we may speak so, of mountainous landscape'. In 1810 also Wordsworth wrote an essay in three parts, On Epitaphs, of which the first part appeared in The Friend, and the others would have appeared if The Friend had not come to a premature end. In 1811 he wrote, in a form of a letter to the author, a critique on Captain Pasley's Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire, with reference to the Napoleonic War. This was first published in the Memoirs edited by his nephew, Christopher Wordsworth, after his death. In 1814 and 1815 he added to his critical writings by the preface to The Excursion, and that to the two volumes of collected Poems", together with a supplementary essay on the relation between
'In saying this I do not forget Ruskin, who has written in his Modern Painters about mountains with a far more gorgeous and elaborate eloquence than Wordsworth could have used. But the very splendour of Ruskin's style, as well as his lack of a firm control over his emotions, makes him less of a guide or philosopher than of a prophet or inspirer of noble passions.
? A third volume was added to this edition in 1820 by the republication in one volume of various poems published between that date and 1815.