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bially an irritable race, and of Wordsworth in particular the impression has always prevailed that in the presence of criticism he was at once hypersensitive and stiff-necked-nay, that (as Hazlitt was wont to say) he accounted a single grain of censure, even though it came to him disguised in a bushel of praise, an unpardonable and inexpiable offence. Now beyond doubt Wordsworth often felt and betrayed resentment under criticism of a certain sort. Poetry was to him a serious and noble aim-a purpose demanding and deserving the devotion of a lifetime --for the sake of which he had resolutely turned dated July 4, 1808, in connection with the withdrawal from publication of The White Doe after it had been announced (e. g., in the Eclectic Review of June, 1808) as “ shortly to be put to press ” ? Southey blames “ Mr. French ” for “ passing by Tintern Abbey, The Leech-Gatherer, Michael, and The Song of Brougham Castle, and fixing upon the weeds of the collection.” The author of the Simpliciad does not indeed pass by The LeechGatherer, which he describes as being mostly “solemn buffoonery;” but he omits all mention of the others. See Knight's Life of Wordsworth, vol. ii., p. 98.
aside from all that the world holds most worthy of pursuit; can we wonder that it vexed him to hear the verses, over which he had toiled strenuously and long, lightly canvassed by a complacent smatterer too indolent even to read them through with attention ? But a very slight acquaintance with his correspondence, or with the textual history of the poems, suffices to show that, however (justly) impatient Wordsworth may have been with the sciolist's “facetious and rejoicing ignorance,” there is not a tittle of evidence to justify us in describing him as recusant of suggestion, or in giving credit for a moment to Hazlitt's idle and outrageous slander. On the contrary, provided that the disputant's motive appeared to be a worthy one, the poet seems to have been ready enough at all times to discuss the style and diction of his compositions;' and our notes
? See, e. g., his letter to Barron Field : Knight's Life, vol. ii., pp. 150-156.
supply namerous instances of his willingness to alter or expunge such words or phrases as seemed to him, after due consideration, to offer fair opportunity for anfavourable comment."
Should the reader find himself at a loss to account for the intensity of the rancour and prejudice displayed by the professional critics towards these Poems, he will do well to bear in mind how, seven years before, in the ill-considered Preface of 1800, Wordsworth had committed himself to sundry startling and—as Coleridge was later on to proveantenable maxims regarding the nature of poetic diction; and to reflect that these bold paradoxes, once formally advanced by the poet, could not fail to react with ill effect upon his later work. In the Preface it had been laid down that “there neither is nor can be any essential difference between the langaage of prose, and that of metrical composition;" and, again, that the speech of low and rustic life, being “plainer, more permanent, and more philosophic” than any other, is therefore peculiarly well-adapted to the purposes of the poet. These two maxims Coleridge, in the autumn of 1800, had suffered to pass without demur; whether in consequence of the fatal palsy of the will that seems about that time to have arrested in him all capacity for sustained mental effort, or in the strength of a faith in his friend before the ardent glow of which all doubts and difficulties were resolved. Early in 1802, however, Wordsworth must have become aware that his erstwhile colleague of the Lyrical Ballads had begun to harbour grave doubts, to say the least of it, regarding the soundness of those
1 “ The illustrious poet, unlike any other poet known to history, altered the passages which gave such advantages to criticism,” writes Mr. Andrew Lang (Life of Lockhart, ii., p. 88) concerning Tennyson and the Quarterly critique of the Poems of 1833. In fact, Tennyson here but followed an example set him over and over again by his predecessor in the laureateship.
aphorisms which hitherto he had seemed tacitly to approve. The discovery seems to have set him apon composing a notable group of ballad-stories to serve, in point of style and diction, as convincing concrete illustrations of the novel principles already set forth in abstract terms in the Preface. Such, it would appear, was the genesis of The Sailor's Mother, Alice Fell, Beggars, and The Emigrant Mother, with their daring colloquialisms, their loosely-knit, improvisatory style, and their grotesque expletives and redundancies : “with the first word I had to spare, I said," etc.; "as it might be perhaps, from boding,” etc. ; "what other dress she had I could not know ; ” “ 'tis gone—forgotten—let me do my best," etc. “curieuses chevilles Wordsworthiennes,” observes M. Emile Legouis, " qui sont autant de protestations contre les enjolivements habituels.”! It was doubt
La Jeunesse de Wordsworth, p. 450, note 1. These superfluities are found throughout the earlier poems; cf. “The