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No reader of this Life of Wordsworth can regret, so much as
the author does, the long delay that has occurred in its publication. Although the first of the three volumes has been printed for more than a year, the issue of the work has been postponed from causes too numerous to mention. When the edition of the Works of Wordsworth to which this Life was to be an appendix—was projected, eight years ago, the first idea was that a single volume would suffice, both for a Biography of the poet, and for a critical Essay upon him.
As soon as the work of research began, however, so much new material accumulated from many sources, that it was judged expedient, not only to extend the Biography from one volume to two, and ultimately to three, but to exclude the critical Essay, reserving it for a future occasion, and a different purpose.
It can be of little consequence to any who read these volumes, to know what the writer thinks of Wordsworth, of his place as a poet in the great hierarchy of genius, and of his function as a teacher of mankind; but it matters a great deal that they should have authentic information as to the manner of man Wordsworth waswas to what he thought and said and did and that they should know the relations he sustained toward the more distinguished of his contemporaries
The hitherto unpublished material which the volumes contain far exceeds, in value and importance, what has been added to them from the miscellaneous sources of informa
tion, open to all students of English Literature. The solitary canto of the projected Recluse—already published by itself, but which was intended to appear first in this work--the fragments of Michael, the poem on Nab Well (originally designed as a portion of The Recluse), and many nugce which the lovers of the poet will not willingly let die; the Alfoxden, the Hamburg, and above all the Grasmere Journal of Wordsworth's sister; the two records of the Continental Tour of 1820, written by Dorothy, and by Mrs Wordsworth respectively; the Journals of other Tours in Scotland, in the Isle of Man, and on the Continent, written by the sister and the daughter of the poet; numerous letters of Wordsworth, to his wife and his sister, to Coleridge, Southey and Sir Walter Scott, to Landor and Talfourd, to Mrs Barrett Browning, to Richard Sharp and Barron Field and John Kenyon, to Scott (the editor of The Champion), to Lord Lonsdale and Viscount Lowther, to Henry Crabb Robinson, to Professor Reed of Philadelphia, and to the poet's publisher, Moxon ; letters also from Dorothy Wordsworth to Miss Pollard, afterwards Mrs Marshall, and to Crabb Robinson ; with others from Mrs
; Clarkson, and Mrs Arnold--all these are published for the first time. In addition, there are many letters from Wordsworth's correspondents on the question of copyright, including Mr Gladstone, Sergeant Talfourd, and Lord Houghton,—and some extracts containing notices of the poet, and facts regarding him, from books written by contemporaries now almost forgotten.
It is absurd at any time, and now-a-days it would be ludicrous, for a biographer to assume the rôle of eulogist. To be blind to the weaknesses of a great man is itself a weakness. To enlarge upon them is both foolish and useless; but to conceal them is to be unfaithful to posterity. There is this advantage however in writing the
life of one who has been dead for well-nigh half a century, that there need be less scruple in mentioning characteristics which inust also rank as weaknesses, allusion to which would have given pain to survivors, had it been made a generation earlier. There would have been some difficulty, for example, in printing those reminiscences of the Westmoreland peasantry, which Mr Rawnsley has brought together, immediately after the poet's death. The same remark applies to some of the jottings in Henry Crabb Robinson's Diary, and in Barron Field's memoranda.
Both the Diary and the Reminiscences of Robinson are full, not only of his own literary judgments on the questions of the day--which were often as acute his appreciation was catholic—but also of the opinions of the most eminent of his contemporaries; and they contain some of the best critical estimates of Wordsworth's poems, as they successively appeared. Through the kindness of the Trustees of the Williams Library, I have had access to the rich storehouse of materials, which exists in the Crabb Robinson MSS., and have made many extracts from it.
The poets and men of letters who belonged to the earlier years of the nineteenth century—that second spring-time in the literature of England—are so closely associated with each other, that it is impossible altogether to separate their works. To form an adequate estimate of one, we must take account of all the others. This is especially the case with Wordsworth and Coleridge--the two poets who may be said, without disparagement of the rest, to have been the leaders of the whole movement. I have therefore to refer frequently, not only to Coleridge, but also to Southey, Lamb, Scott, Landor, and many others; and it will be seen that a noteworthy feature in Wordsworth's character was his appreciation of his contemporaries.