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BEFORE Wordsworth started for Scotland in July 1814, he wrote thus to Lord Lonsdale :

“RYDAL MOUNT, June 4, 1814.

I have now in the press, and almost ready for publication, a portion of a work in verse, which I ask permission to inscribe to your Lordship, as the best testimony I can give of my respect for your character, and in gratitude for particular marks of favour shown to myself.

My labour is yet very far from being brought to a conclusion, but if this specimen receives your approbation, I shall cherish a hope of being enabled, at some future period, to request the same honour for the finished poems, &c.

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The Excursion was published in July 1814 (in quarto form), with a dedicatory Sonnet to the Earl of Lonsdale, and a Preface, explaining the design, not only of The Excursion, but of the larger projected work, The Recluse, of which The Excursion was only to form a part. (See vol. v. of this edition, pp. 1-18.) The only sentences from that Preface which need reproduction here are these: "Several years ago, when the Author retired to his native mountains, with the hope of being enabled to construct a literary work that might live, it was a reasonable thing that he should take a review of his own mind, and examine how far Nature and Education had qualified him for such employment. As subsidiary to this, he undertook to record in verse the origin and progress of his own powers, as far as he was acquainted

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with them. That work, addressed to a dear friend, most distinguished for his knowledge and genius, and to whom the author's intellect is deeply indebted,* has long been finished; and the result of the investigation which gave rise to it, was a determination to compose a Philosophical Poem, containing views of Man, Nature, and Society; and to be entitled The Recluse. The preparatory poem is biographical, and the two works have the same kind of relation to each other, if he may so express himself, as the ante-chapel has to the body of a Gothic church. Continuing this allusion, he may be permitted to add, that his Minor Poems, which have been long before the public, when they shall be properly arranged, will be found by the attentive reader to have such connection with the main work as may give them claim to be likened to the little cells, oratories, and sepulchral recesses, ordinarily included in these edifices." On August 13, Henry Crabb Robinson wrote in his Diary :

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I stole out of the theatre to call on Madge, at whose apartments I found the new great poem of Wordsworth, The Excursion. I could only look into the preface, and read a few extracts with M. It is a poem of formidable size, and I fear too mystical to be popular. But it will, however, put an end to the sneers of those who consider him, or affect to consider him, as a puerile writer, who attempts only little things. But it will draw on him the imputation of dulness possibly; still, it will, I trust, strengthen the zeal of his few friends. My anxiety is great to read it.

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As giving a sample of the contemporary verdicts on The Excursion when it first appeared, I may quote further from Robinson's Diary.

* This was written in 1814. It is significant after what we know of the clouds and shadows of the years, 1810-12.

"15th Oct. 1814.-. . . I read The Examiners for the last three months. They contain an excellent review of Wordsworth's poem by Hazlitt, excepting from this praise some very coarse and cynical remarks on a country life, in which the poor inhabitants of the Lakes are designed as more ignorant and worthless than the lower classes elsewhere. Hazlitt delights in bidding defiance to common opinion; and there is a twist about either his head or heart which gives a perverse turn to even his ablest writings.

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25th Oct., Cambridge.-. Dined with Mr Tillbrook of Peterhouse. He is an admirer of Wordsworth. He says that Wilson, the poet, assured him that Jeffrey, the Edinburgh Reviewer, declared to him that he is a great admirer of Wordsworth; and that he had attacked him, not because he himself thinks lowly of him, but because the public think highly of him. I had heard a similar tale before, but never on such good authority. Jeffrey further asked Wilson to introduce him to Wordsworth, which Wilson' refused doing. Wilson and Jeffrey are friends, and the Isle of Palms was sent to him in MS., with an offer to omit anything that might be offensive. It seems strange to me that any sincere admirer and disciple of Wordsworth should suffer such an elevation of himself at his master's expense.

Nov. 2nd.-Sat at home this evening reading Wordsworth's Excursion. I have yet read but little of this exquisite work. I have, however, already no doubt that it will be for other reasons as unpopular as his other works; and that it will be highly admired by his former admirers.

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10th. The conclusion of the fourth book of Wordsworth's poem transcendently beautiful. . . . Lamb has written a review of W.'s poem for the Quarterly Review, which he says would have been fit for the first review, but will not do after others.

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23rd.-Finished this week Wordsworth's poem. . . . The

wisdom and high moral character of the work are beyond anything similar that I am acquainted with; and the spirit of the poem flags much less frequently than might be apprehended. There are passages which run heavily, tales which are prolix, and reasonings which are spun out, but in general the narratives are exquisitely tender. That of the country parson, who retains in solitude the feelings of high society, whose vigour of mind is unconquerable, and who even after the death of his wife in solitude and wretchedness, appears able for a short time to bear up against desolation by the powers of his native temperament, is most delightful. Among the discussions, that on manufactures, in the Eighth Book, is admirably managed; and forms in due subordination to the incomparable Fourth Book one of the chief excellences of the Poem. W. has succeeded better, in light and elegant painting, in this poem than in any other. His Hanoverian and Jacobite are very sweet pictures.

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Dec. 19th.

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. Took tea with the Flaxmans, and read to them some passages out of Wordsworth's Excursion. Flaxman took umbrage at some mystical expressions in the preface, in which W. talks of seeing Jehovah unalarmed. 'If my brother had written that,' said F., ‘I should say, Burn it;' but he admitted that W. could not mean anything impious in it. Indeed I was unable, and am still, to explain the passage, and Lamb's explanation is unsatisfactory, viz., that there are deeper sufferings in the mind of man than in any imagined hell. If W. means to say that all notions as to personality in God, as well as the locality of hell, are but attempts to individualise notions concerning the mind, he will be much more of a metaphysical philosopher 'nach deutscher Art,' than I had any conception of. yet this otherwise glorious and magnificent fragment tends thitherwards, as far as I can discern any tendency in it.


Jan. 3, 1815.-The Excursion, on the second perusal,

gratified me still more than the first, and my own impressions were not removed by the various criticisms I about this time became acquainted with. I read to Mrs W. Pattisson the Eclectic Review. It is a highly encomiastic article, rendering ample justice to the poetical talents of the author, but very reasonably raising a doubt as to the religious character of the poem. It is pointedly insinuated that Nature is a sort of God throughout, and consistently with the Calvinistic orthodoxy of the reviewer, the lamentable error of representing a love of Nature as a sort of purifying state of mind, and the study of Nature as a sanctifying process, is emphatically pointed out. . . . Mrs W. P. further objected to a want of sensibility, or, rather, passion, and she even maintained that one of the reasons why I admired him so much is that I never was in love! We disputed on this head, and it was at last agreed between us that Wordsworth has no power, because he has no inclination, to describe the passion of an unsuccessful lover!

.. Mrs W. P. allowed him to possess sensibility, but a sensibility extended over a great number of objects even inanimate, and not concentrated in the nearest, and best objects of affection.

We also read the Edinburgh Review of the Poem. It is a very severe and contemptuous article. W. is treated as incurable, and the charges are run with great vivacity in the old keys-affectation, bad taste, mysticism. He is reproached with 'having written more feebly than before. Some of the blows will have effect, I fear, but not all. A ludicrous statement of the story is given, which will not impose on many; for Homer, or the Bible, might be so represented. There is little novelty in the attack on Wordsworth, and it will do little mischief among those who are already acquainted with the Edinburgh Review articles; but it will close up the eyes of many who might otherwise have recovered their sight.

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