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THE PREFACE TO LYRICAL BALLADS1
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
'Preface' to the second volume of the Lyrical Ballads, with other Poems, was published in 1800.
The Appendix" to the Preface of 1800, on "Poetic Diction," was first published in 1802.
When the second edition of Lyrical Ballads appeared in 1800, Wordsworth prefixed to the first volume-which contained all his poems published in 1798, with the exception of The Convict, and the five poems by Coleridge which were originally included in Lyrical Ballads- -a Preface, in which he explained his poetical theory. This Preface was expanded in the edition of 1802 by about 18 pages. The additions of 1802 will be indicated, where they occur, by footnotes. The enlarged Preface was republished, with no alteration, in 1805. The edition of 1815, however, contained a new Preface, dealing with some other aspects of Poetry; and, in consequence, this earlier essay-which Wordsworth thought inappropriate as an introduction to his later poems -was, in that year, 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 that edition. 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. In 1849, it appeared, with all the other Prefaces, Appendices, etc., at the close of the fifth volume of the Collected Works.
The "Preface" of 1800, and the appendix-note on "Poetic Diction," 1802, were brought into every subsequent edition of the works, at one place or another.-ED.
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.1
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 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
1 For the sake of variety and from a consciousness of my own weakness, I was induced to request the assistance of a Friend, I 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.-W. W. 1800. This was a part of the Preface, inserted at this place, in the editions of 1800, 1802, and 1805.-ED.
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 Shakespeare, 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 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