William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
Wordsworth - stamp seller?
In April 1813 Wordsworth was appointed Distributor of Stamps for Westmorland. Although the £400 a year which went with this post made him financially secure, this acceptance of a government job by the former radical was seen as a betrayal - as Robert Browning wrote in The Lost Leader: "Just for a handful of silver he left us." Wordsworth compounded his teachery, in the eyes of the younger generation of poets, by campaigning for Tory politicians in the 1818 and 1820 elections.
Wordsworth published his long poem Peter Bell
in 1819 and dedicated it to Robert Southey, who in 1813 had become the establishment's poet by accepting the office of Poet Laureate (Southey is mercilessly mocked by Byron in Don Juan
). Shelley responded with a parody entitled Peter Bell the Third
, mocking Wordsworth for his change of allegiances. In 1843, on the death of Southey, Wordsworth was himself appointed Poet Laureate.
J K Stephen (1859-92) published a rather cruel sonnet on Wordsworth's subject matter and style in The Granta in 1891:
Two voices are there: one is of the deep;
It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody,
Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea,
Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep:
And one is of an old half-witted sheep
Which bleats articulate monotony,
And indicates that two and one are three,
That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep:
And, Wordsworth, both are thine: at certain times
Forth from the heart of thy melodious rhymes
The form and pressure of high thoughts will burst:
At other times - good Lord! I'd rather be
Quite unacquainted with the ABC
Than write such hopeless rubbish as thy worst.
For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: but though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached, were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man, who being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply. (Wordsworth: Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1802 edition)
There's more about this parody by Stephen on Everything2
. It seems he was 'an English Poetic Parodist [is that a job?], Royal Tutor, and International Law Scholar'.
For more on Wordsworth, see:
Wordsworth in print
- The Prelude (1805), edited Ernest de Selincourt and Stephen Gill: it contains the original 1805 text edited from manuscripts with a comprehensive introduction and notes.
- A Preface to Wordsworth by John Purkis: useful survey of Wordsworth's ideas, cultural context, etc. Comments on The Prelude are brief but apposite.
- Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge: the first, 1798, edition (the one specified for AQA's LTA4 examination). These volumes might also be useful:
- Heather Glen: Vision and Disenchantment: Blake's Songs and Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads (Cambridge Paperback Library) - recommended by Dr Alistair Cormack of the University of East Anglia as "the best book I've ever read on Blake and also the best book I've ever read on Wordsworth". Unfortunately it seems currently to be out of print so either try a library or a second-hand seller such as Abebooks or through the Amazon link here.
Wordsworth on the web
Editions of Wordsworth's poetry and prose:
Examination candidates who are studying the 1805 edition of The Prelude
should be warned that these sites either provide only extracts or the 1850 version. The copy of The Prelude
on the invaluable Project Gutenberg
is (at least when last checked) also the 1850 version - you need to look further for the earlier text or buy a printed copy