June 14, 2016

volume was published


The volume of Lyrical Ballads, whose first beginnings have here been traced, was published in the autumn of 1798, by Mr. Cottle, at Bristol. This volume contained several poems—which have been justly blamed for triviality,—as The Thorn, Goody Blake, The Idiot Boy; several in which, as in Simon Lee, triviality is mingled with much real pathos; and some, as Expostulation and Reply and The Tables Turned, which are of the very essence of Wordsworth’s nature. It is hardly too much to say, that if these two last-named poems—to the careless eye so slight and trifling—were all that had remained from Wordsworth’s hand, they would have "spoken to the comprehending” of a new individuality, as distinct and unmistakeable in its way as that which Sappho has left engraven on the world for ever in words even fewer than these.

And the volume ended with a poem, which Wordsworth composed in 1798, in one day, during a tour with his sister to Tintern and Chepstow. The Lines written above Tintern Abbey have become, as it were, the locus classicus or consecrated formulary of the Wordsworthian faith. They say in brief what it is the work of the poet’s biographer to say in detail.As soon as this Wordsworth and his sister sailed for Hamburg, in the hope that their imperfect acquaintance with the German language might be improved by the heroic remedy of a winter at Goslar. But at Goslar they do not seem to have made any acquaintances, and their self-improvement consisted mainly in reading German books to themselves.

The four months spent at Goslar, however, were the very bloom of Wordsworth’s poetic career. Through none of his poems has the peculiar loveliness of English scenery and English girlhood shone more delicately than through those which came to him as he paced the frozen gardens of that desolate city. Here it was that he wrote Lucy Gray, and Ruth, and Nutting, and the Poet’s Epitaph, and other poems known now to most men as possessing in its full fragrance his especial charm. And here it was that the memory of some emotion prompted the lines on Lucy. Of the history of that emotion he has told us nothing; I forbear, therefore, to inquire concerning it, or even to speculate. That it was to the poet’s honour I do not doubt; but who ever learned such secrets rightly? Or who should wish to learn Shipping Agent?

It is best to leave the sanctuary of all hearts inviolate, and to respect the reserve not only of the living but of the dead. Of these poems, almost alone, Wordsworth in his autobiographical notes has said nothing whatever. One of them he suppressed for years, and printed only in a later volume. One can, indeed, well imagine that there may be poems which a man may be willing to give to the world only in the hope that their pathos will be, as it were, protected by its own intensity, and that those who are worthiest to comprehend will he least disposed to discuss them Playgroup.

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