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THE LYRICAL BALLADS WITH THE PREFACE-MR. WORDSWORTH'S EARLIER POEMS-ON FANCY AND IMAGINATION-THE INVESTIGATION OF THE DISTINCTION IMPORTANT TO THE FINE ARTS.
I HAVE wandered far from the object in view, but as I fancied to myself readers who would respect the feelings that had tempted me from the main road; so I dare calculate on not a few, who will warmly sympathize with them. At present it will be sufficient for my purpose, if I have proved, that Mr. Southey's wri
disce his friends, LAMB and SOUTHEY."* With severest truth it may be asserted, that it would not be easy to select two men more exemplary in their domestic affections than those whose names were thus printed at full length as in the same rank of morals with a denounced infidel and fugitive, who had left his children fatherless, and his wife destitute! Is it surprising, that many good men remained longer than perhaps they otherwise would have done adverse to a party, which encouraged and openly rewarded the authors of such atrocious calumnies? Qualis es, nescio; sed per quales agis, scio et doleo.
* [Of this now harmless injustice Mr. Talfourd speaks as follows, in his interesting sketch of the life, accompanying the delightful Letters of Charles Lamb. "It was surely rather too much, even for partisans, when denouncing their political opponents," (in the poem of the 'New Morality' pub lished in the Anti-Jacobin,')—" as men who 'dirt on private worth and virtue threw,' thus to slander two young men of the most exemplary character-one of an almost puritanical exactness of demeanor and conduct-and the other persevering in a life of noble self-sacrifice, chequered only by the frailties of a sweet nature, which endeared him even to those who were not admitted to the intimacy necessary to appreciate the touching example of his severer virtues." Vol. i. p. 120.
This passage I quote not, of course, for the sake of refuting The AntiJacobin of 1798, but for its warm testimony to the virtues of my father's friend, Mr. Lamb. Having quoted it, I can not but observe, as regards the terms in which it speaks of Mr. Southey (my revered uncle), that his purity,―a pureness of heart and spirit far beyond any that mere exactitude of demeanor and conduct could evidence or express,-was utterly unmixed, as to me it seems, with puritanism, either in opinion or in spirit.
tings no more than my own furnished the original occasion to this fiction of a new school of poetry, and to the clamors against its supposed founders and proselytes.
As little do I believe that Mr. Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads were in themselves the cause. I speak exclusively of the two volumes so entitled.* A careful and repeated examination of these confirms me in the belief, that the omission of less than a hundred lines would have precluded nine tenths of the criticism on this work. I hazard this declaration, however, on the supposition, that the reader has taken it up, as he would any other collection of poems purporting to derive their subjects or interests from the incidents of domestic or ordinary life, intermingled with higher strains of meditation which the poet utters in his own person and character; with the proviso, that these poems were perused without knowledge of, or reference to, the author's peculiar opinions, and that the reader had not had his attention previously directed to those peculiarities. In that case, as actually happened with Mr. Southey's earlier works, the lines and passages which might have offended the general taste, would have been considered as mere inequalities, and attributed to inattention, not to perversity of judgment. The men of business who had passed their lives chiefly in cities, and who might therefore be expected to derive the highest pleasure from acute notices of men and manners conveyed in easy, yet correct and pointed language; and all those who, reading but little poetry, are most stimulated with that species of it, which seems most distant from prose, would probably have passed by the volumes altogether.
* [See ante, note, p. 144.-Ed.]
May we not say that the deepest and most pervading purity is preclusive of puritanism? On this point he might be favorably contrasted with Cowper, as well as honorably compared to him in moral strictness, and perhaps raised above him on the score of that deeper purity which is a nature rather than a principle.
Of Mr. Lamb's character in this respect Mr. Coleridge gave a brief description which has been preserved in the specimen of his Table Talk. It was of Charles Lamb that he said, "Nothing ever left a stain on that gentle creature's mind, which looked upon the degraded men and things around him like moonshine on a dunghill, which shines and takes no pollution. All things are shadows to him, except those which move his affections.”
Some further account of Mr. Lamb will be found in the biographical supplement at the end of the volume.-S. C.
Others more catholic in their taste, and yet habituated to be most pleased when most excited, would have contented themselves with deciding, that the author had been successful in proportion to the elevation of his style and subject. Not a few, perhaps, might, by their admiration of the Lines written near Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the Wye, those Left upon a Yew Tree Seat, The Old Cumberland Beggar, and Ruth, have been gradually led to peruse with kindred feeling The Brothers, the Hart-leap Well, and whatever other poems in that collection may be described as holding a middle place between those written in the highest and those in the humblest style; as for instance between the Tintern Abbey, and The Thorn, or Simon Lee.* Should their taste submit to no further change, and still remain unreconciled to the colloquial phrases, or the imitations of them, that are, more or less, scattered through the class last mentioned; yet even from the small number of the latter, they would have deemed them but an inconsiderable subtraction from the merit of the whole work; or, what is sometimes not unpleasing in the publication of a new writer, as serving to ascertain the natural tendency, and consequently the proper direction of the author's genius.
In the critical remarks, therefore, prefixed and annexed to the Lyrical Ballads,† I believe, we may safely rest, as the true origin of the unexampled opposition which Mr. Wordsworth's writings have been since doomed to encounter. The humbler passages in the poems themselves were dwelt on and cited to justify the rejection of the theory. What in and for themselves would have been either forgotten or forgiven as imperfections, or at least comparative failures, provoked direct hostility when announced as intentional, as the result of choice after full deliberation. Thus poems, admitted by all as excellent, joined with those which had pleased the far greater number, though they formed two thirds of the whole work, instead of being deemed (as in all right they should have been, even if we take for granted that the reader judged aright) an atonement for the few exceptions, gave wind and fuel to the animosity against both the poems and the
* [The poems here mentioned are now found in the collected edition of Mr Wordsworth's Works as follows: II. p. 161. V. p. 7-p. 282. II. p. 106. I. p. 109. II. p. 141-p. 124. V. p. 17.-Ed.]
[This Preface, published in 1800, is now printed II. p. 303.—Ed.]
poet. In all perplexity there is a portion of fear, which predisposes the mind to anger. Not able to deny that the author possessed both genius and a powerful intellect, they felt very positive, -but yet were not quite certain that he might not be in the right, and they themselves in the wrong; an unquiet state of mind, which seeks alleviation by quarrelling with the occasion of it, and by wondering at the perverseness of the man, who had written a long and argumentative essay to persuade them, that
Fair is foul, and foul is fair;
in other words, that they had been all their lives admiring without judgment, and were now about to censure without reason.*
* In opinions of long continuance, and in which we have never before been molested by a single doubt, to be suddenly convinced of an error, is almost like being convinced of a fault. There is a state of mind, which is the direct antithesis of that, which takes place when we make a bull. The bull mainly consists in the bringing together two incompatible thoughts, with the sensation, but without the sense, of their connection. The psychological condition, or that which constitutes the possibility, of this state, being such disproportionate vividness of two distant thoughts, as tinguishes or obscures the consciousness of the intermediate images or conceptions, or wholly abstracts the attention from them. Thus in the wellknown bull, "I was a fine child, but they changed me," the first conception expressed in the word "I," is that of personal identity-Ego contemplans : the second expressed in the word "me," is the visual image or object by which the mind represents to itself its past condition, or rather, its personal identity under the form in which it imagined itself previously to have existed,-Ego contemplatus. Now the change of one visual image for another involves in itself no absurdity, and becomes absurd only by its immediate juxtaposition with the first thought, which is rendered possible by the whole attention being successively absorbed in each singly, so as not to notice the interjacent notion, changed, which by its incongruity with the first thought, I, constitutes the bull. Add only, that this process is facilitated by the circumstance of the words I, and me, being sometimes equivalent, and sometimes having a distinct meaning; sometimes, namely, signifying the act of self-consciousness, sometimes the external image in and by which the mind represents that act to itself, the result and symbol of its individuality. Now suppose the direct contrary state, and you will have a distinct sense of the connection between two conceptions, without that sensation of such connection which is supplied by habit. The man feels as if he were standing on his head, though he can not but see that he is truly standing on his feet. This, as a painful sensation, will of course have a tendency to associate itself with him who occasions it; even as persons, who have been by painful means restored from derangement, are known to feel an involuntary dislike towards their physician
That this conjecture is not wide from the mark, I am induced to believe from the noticeable fact, which I can state on my own knowledge, that the same general censure has been grounded by almost every different person on some different poem. Among those, whose candor and judgment I estimate highly, I distinctly remember six who expressed their objections to the Lyrical Ballads almost in the same words, and altogether to the same purport, at the same time admitting, that several of the poems had given them great pleasure; and, strange as it might seem, the composition which one cited as execrable, another quoted as his favorite. I am indeed convinced in my own mind, that could the same experiment have been tried with these volumes, as was made in the well-known story of the picture, the result would have been the same: the parts which had been covered by black spots on the one day, would be found equally albo lapide notatæ on the succeeding.
However this may be, it was assuredly hard and unjust to fix the attention on a few separate and insulated poems with as much aversion, as if they had been so many plague-spots on the whole work, instead of passing them over in silence, as so much blank paper, or leaves of a bookseller's catalogue; especially, as no one pretended to have found in them any immorality or indelicacy; and the poems, therefore, at the worst, could only be regarded as so many light or inferior coins in a rouleau of gold, not as so much alloy in a weight of bullion. A friend whose talents I hold in the highest respect, but whose judgment and strong sound sense I have had almost continued occasion to revere, making the usual complaints to me concerning both the style and subjects of Mr. Wordsworth's minor poems; I admitted that there were some few of the tales and incidents, in which I could not myself find a sufficient cause for their having been recorded in metre. I mentioned Alice Fell as an instance; Nay," replied my friend with more than usual quickness of manner, "I can not agree with you there that, I own, does seem to me a remarkably pleasing poem." In the Lyrical Ballads (for my experience does not enable me to extend the remark equally unqualified to the two subsequent volumes), I have heard at different times, and from different individuals, every single poem extolled and reprobated, with the exception of those of loftier kind, which, as was * [Poet. Works, P. 13.-Ed.]