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The Prose Writings of Wordsworth, which are printed as an Appendix to this volume of his Poetical Works, include :1. The “Preface" to the second volume of the Lyrical Ballads, first
published in 1800. 2. The“ Dedication ” of the edition of 1815 to Sir George Beaumont. 3. The “ Preface" to the edition of 1815. 4. The “Appendix ” to the Preface of 1800, on “Poetic Diction,"
first published in 1815. 5. The “Essay supplementary to the Preface" of 1815. 6. The “ Postscript, 1835.”
When Wordsworth published a second edition of the Lyrical Ballads in 1800, he prefixed to the first volume—which contained all his poems of 1798, with the exception of The Convict, and the five poems by Coleridge which were originally included in the Ballads—a Preface, in which he explained his poetical theory. This preface was expanded in the next edition (1802) by about 18 pages (the additions will all be found indicated by footnotes). The enlarged preface was republished
. with no alteration in 1805. But since the edition of 1815 contained a new preface, dealing with some other aspects of Poetry, this earlier essay—which Wordsworth thought inappropriate as an introduction to his later poems—was transferred to the end of the second volume, where it was printed as an appendix. In 1820 it closed the fourth and last volume of the edition of that year. In 1827 it was printed at the end of the fourth volume ; in 1832 at the close of the third ; and in 1836 at the end of the second volume. In 1849 it was printed with all the other prefaces, appendices, &c., at the close of the fifth volume of the collected works.
The “ Dedication,” the “Preface," and the “Essay Supplementary” of 1815, with the appendix note on “Poetic Diction,” were all brought in, at one place or another, into every subsequent edition of the works.—ED.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION OF THE
LYRICAL BALLADS (1800). The first volume of these poems has already been submitted to general perusal. It was published, as an experiment, which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain, how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a Poet may rationally endeavour to impart.
I had formed no very inaccurate estimate of the probable effect of those Poems: I flattered myself that they who should be pleased with them would read them with more than common pleasure; and, on the other hand, I was well aware, that by those who should dislike them, they would be read with more than common dislike. The result has differed from my expectation in this only, that a greater number have been pleased than I ventured to hope I should please.*
Several of my Friends are anxious for the success of these Poems, from a belief, that, if the views with which they were composed were indeed realised, a class of Poetry would be produced, well adapted to interest mankind permanently, and not unimportant in the quality, and in the multiplicity of its moral relations : and on this account they have advised me to add a systematic defence of the theory upon which the Poems were written. But I was unwilling to undertake the task, because I knew that on this occasion the Reader would look coldly upon my arguments, since I might be suspected of having been principally influenced by
* For the sake of variety and from a consciousness of my own weakness, I was induced to request the assistance of a Friend, who furnished me with the Poems of the ANCIENT MARINER, the FOSTER-MOTHER's Tale, the NIGHTINGALE, the Dungeon, and the Poem entitled LOVE. I should not, however, have requested this assistance, had I not believed that the poems of my Friend would in a great measure have the same tendency as my own, and that, though there would be found a difference, there would be found no discordance in the colours of our style; as our opinions on the subject of poetry do almost entirely coincide.
Inserted in editions 1800, 1802, 1805.-ED.
the selfish and foolish hope of reasoning him into an approbation of these particular Poems: and I was still more unwilling to undertake the task, because, adequately to display my opinions, and fully to enforce my arguments, would require a space wholly disproportionate to a preface. For, to treat the subject with the clearness and coherence of which it is susceptible, it would be necessary to give a full account of the present state of the public taste in this country, and to determine how far this taste is healthy or depraved; which, again, could not be determined, without pointing out in what manner language and the human mind act and re-act on each other, and without retracing the revolutions, not of literature alone, but likewise of society itself. I have therefore altogether declined to enter regularly upon this defence; yet I am sensible, that there would be something like impropriety in abruptly obtruding upon the Public, without a few words of introduction, Poems so materially different from those upon which general approbation is at present bestowed.
It is supposed, that by the act of writing in verse an Author makes a formal engagement that he will gratify certain known habits of association; that he not only thus apprises the reader that certain classes of ideas and expressions will be found in his book, but that others will be carefully excluded. This exponent or symbol held forth by metrical language must in different eras of literature have excited very different expectations : for example, in the age of Catullus, Terence, and Lucretius, and that of Statius or Claudian ; and in our own country, in the age of Shakspeare, and Beaumont and Fletcher, and that of Donne and Cowley, or Dryden, or Pope. I will not take upon me to determine the exact import of the promise which, by the act of writing in verse, an Author, in the present day, makes to his reader; but it will undoubtedly appear to many persons that I have
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not fulfilled the terms of an engagement thus voluntarily contracted. They who have been accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will, no doubt, frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to inquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title. I hope therefore the reader will not censure me for attempting to state what I have proposed to myself to perform ; and also (as far as the limits of a preface will permit) to explain some of the chief reasons which have determined me in the choice of my purpose : that at least he may be spared any unpleasant feeling of disappointment, and that I myself may be protected from one of the most dishonourable accusations which can be brought against an Author; namely, that of an indolence which prevents him from endeavouring to ascertain what is his duty, or, when his duty is ascertained, prevents him from performing it.
The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement. Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language;