Wordsworth: A Life in Letters
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Here, in his own words and those of his closest friends and family, is William Wordsworth. From his childhood to his death in 1850, this portrait, taken from letters and autobiographical fragments selected by Juliet Barker, reveals the rebellious schoolboy who became a supporter of the French Revolution, the radical poet who rose to be a revered patriarch and the private man who loved his family.
straw about the theory’ and that the preface was written ‘out of sheer good nature’. ‘I recollect the very spot, a deserted Quarry in the Vale of Grasmere where he pressed the thing upon me, & but for that it would never have been thought of.’ Like Topsy, however, once thought of, it just growed and growed. Almost as important as the introduction of a preface was the relegation of The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere from pride of place opening the volume, to second to last. What is more, Coleridge
‘those returns of friendship and kindness [to] which most firmly I maintain [I was] entitled’. And what of the pamphlet itself? It was finally published on 24 May 1809 by Longman, who set the price at 5s. William personally bore the entire cost of printing and publishing, a sure indication of how much the pamphlet meant to him. He had not been sanguine about its prospects, even before publication. ‘What I have written has been done according to the best light of my Conscience;’ he told his old
visually intrusive, were the plantations now springing up over the Lakeland hills: serried ranks of larches and firs marching inexorably and indiscriminately over all terrain, lacking variety of shape, colour, size or movement. This was not just a negative and reactionary piece of what might now be called ‘Nimbyism’, for what William sought to do was to re-educate the perpetrators. Mansions are inappropriate in mountain regions, he reasoned, because they can never have sufficient dignity or
had the unwavering support not only of ‘the Concern’, his family circle, but also a much wider group of devotees, who were growing in number and importance. All these converts were themselves keen proselytizers, spreading the word among their friends and publicly reading William’s poetry aloud at every opportunity, so, like the ripples from a stone flung in a pool, his work was gradually reaching a wider audience. Neither Lamb nor Southey had been uncritical in the past, but both were now ardent
& perils averted’. ‘This w[oul]d be a new mode of dealing with the office of laureat[e], & w[oul]d come with dignity & propriety I think, from a Seer of Wordsworth’s age & character.’ The muse, however, remained stubbornly silent. William’s seventy-third birthday, put off from 7 April to the 20th ‘in royal fashion’, as Quillinan teased, was celebrated in grand style, as became his new status. Around 130 schoolgirls came to a tea-drinking in Mr North’s field and danced to music supplied by a