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the early years of the nineteenth century, to the powerful influence which those poems exerted even from the first. The Apologia, therefore, of Wordsworth's prose was perhaps superfluous; but in relation to the Ballads to which it was intended to apply it was just, and justified by the success of the poems themselves.
If Wordsworth had known how much importance would be attached to his exposition of poetical principles and how much discussion would arise about them, he would probably have been more guarded in some of his expressions. Thus the Advertisement, after stating that the majority of the Lyrical Ballads were to be considered as experiments, proceeds :
They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, &c. If this passage were taken in its natural
it would imply that the language of conversation in the upper class was different from that shared by the middle and lower classes; that it had hitherto been the exclusive language of poetry; and that it was frequently characterized by gaudiness and inane phraseology. Wordsworth, of course, meant nothing so ridiculous. He did not imagine that the peers, for instance, conversed in the language of Gray's Ode on Spring. He was unconsciously attempting to say two things at once : on the one hand, that the men and women of his ballads were drawn from the middle and lower classes ; on the other, that his language was that of conversation. Accordingly in the Preface, substituted for the Advertisement, in the edition of 1800, he writes :
The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men.
But though the Preface removes an obvious confusion of language, it brings into relief a real confusion of thought. It is unnecessary here to discuss the subject in detail, as that has been done by Coleridge in a part of the Biographia Literaria which no reader of Wordsworth can afford to neglect. It is enough to point out that the two statements, with which Coleridge joined issue, and which cannot possibly be defended, were, one, to the effect that the language of men in 'humble and rustic life' had a special virtue as a vehicle of poetic thought from its own directness and from the unsophisticated character of such men (Pref. pp. 45, 48–49); the other, that there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and [that of] metrical composition.'
Let us again remind ourselves that Wordsworth's theories take their start from the particular class
of poems of which “the majority' of the Lyrical Ballads are specimens. Wordsworth was convinced that the language of poetry should be that of truth and sincerity, not a conventionally decorative jargon, and that the subject matter of the noblest poetry should be neither the wild and fantastic absurdities or the pseudo-aristocratic inanities of fashionable romance, nor the highly artificial emotions and the narrowly rationalistic thought of the polite society,' which was bred on a degenerating tradition of the age of Anne, but the great and simple affections of our nature' (p. 50), or as he elsewhere expresses it :
Of Truth, of Grandeur, Beauty, Love, and Hope,
(From The Recluse, quoted in Pref. to Excursion.) These convictions are illustrated in one branch of poetry by the Lyrical Ballads, just as we may say that the Virgilian point of view is exemplified by the Eclogues; but they are no less illustrated by the most splendid and elaborate of Wordsworth's poems, such as the famous Ode, the Lines written near Tintern Abbey, Laodamia, or the Sonnet on Westminster Bridge, or that on the Extinction of the Venetian Republic. Wordsworth had not trained himself in philosophical severity of reasoning, and, while he was led on by his argument far beyond the immediate scope of justifying a few experiments' in the poetry of 'humble and rustic life," he still was affected and warped in his judgement by the idea that in such a ballad as We are Seven he had given as it were the formula for poetic composition.
The other portion of Wordsworth's critical writings, which has become celebrated from the discussion which it raised, is the distinction between Fancy and Imagination which forms the subject of the Preface to the edition of 1815. As a description of the functions of those two faculties in poetic composition, the passage deserves the epithet of masterly' which Coleridge bestowed upon it?; it is only when the distinction is made the basis of a classification of poems that its usefulness is lost in the clouds of mist which it engenders. Such an intimate friend as Henry Crabb Robinson, who several times recurs to the subject in his diaries, was never able to master this key; and it is said that the poet himself could be teased by being puzzled with the question whether such or such a poem would be found in the one class or in the other. He had himself attempted to 'guard against the possibility of misleading' by pointing out that certain poems are placed according to the powers of mind, in the Author's conception,
Biog. Lit. (Bohn), p. 44. At p. 138 Coleridge modifies his approval, at the same time promising a more philosophical definition. This, however, was one of the many promised works of Coleridge which had no fulfilment.
predominant in the production of them; predominant, which implies the exertion of other faculties in less degree. But, although a study of the poems from this point of view is interesting, it may be doubted whether the attempt to separate them into two compartments has not on the whole tended to obscure the distinction which Wordsworth so effectively enunciated and illustrated in the Preface.
There are many other points of interest in Wordsworth's critical writings, notably many records of the impressions left upon his independent and retentive mind by the poetry of those of his predecessors in whom he took an interest. Many more of these records are contained in the various memoirs' and reminiscences' in which so much of his conversation is, in substance, preserved. It is easy to catch him tripping in historical detail?,
· Prof. Saintsbury (History of Criticism, iii. 202) calls attention to an obvious inaccuracy in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads (see below, p. 13), where Wordsworth contrasts the age of Catullus, Terence, and Lucretius' with that of Statius or Claudian ’(Prof. Saintsbury adds an error by substituting *and’ for.or"), and the age of Shakespeare and Beaumont and Fletcher' with that of Donne and Cowley, or Dryden, or Pope.' As Professor Saintsbury points out, Donne was the elder of Fletcher probably by six or seven years, of Beaumont by ten or twelve. Professor Saintsbury's account of Wordsworth's critical writings, though acute and clever in its happygo-lucky way, suffers, as it seems almost inevitable that the work of one who takes all literary knowledge for his province must suffer, from superficiality and the undue prominence given to certain aspects. Of course quot homines, tot sententiae ; but, as a result of many years' study of Wordsworth, I must record my conviction that Professor Saintsbury very much exaggerates the doggedness' and 'pique' which he supposes to have been at the bottom of the poet's critical heresy.