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lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.
With this view I wrote the “Ancient Mariner”, and was preparing, among other poems, “The Dark Ladie" and the “ Christabel”, in which I should have more nearly realised my ideal than I had done in my first attempt.
But Mr. Wordsworth's industry had proved so much more successful, and the number of his poems so much greater, that my compositions, instead of forming a balance, appeared rather an interpolation of heterogeneous matter. Mr. Wordsworth added two or three poems written in his own character, in the impassioned, lofty, and sustained diction, which is characteristic of his genius. In this form the “ Lyrical Ballads” were published, and were presented by him as an experiment, whether subjects which from their nature rejected the usual ornaments and extracolloquial style of poems in general, might not be so managed in the language of ordinary life, as to produce the pleasurable interest which it is the peculiar business of poetry to impart.
"To the second edition he added a preface of considerable length, in which, notwithstanding some passages of apparently a contrary import, he was understood to contend for the extension of this style to poetry of all kinds, and to reject, as vicious and indefensible, all phrases and forms of speech that were not included in what he (unfortunately, I think, adopting an equivocal expression), called the language of real life. From this preface, prefixed to poems in which it was impossible to deny the presence of original genius, however mistaken its direction might be deemed, arose the whole long continued controversy. For, from the conjunction of perceived power with supposed heresy, I explain the inveteracy and, in some instances, I grieve to say, the acrimonious passions, with which the controversy has been conducted by the assailants’.
The account which Wordsworth gives of the origin of the 'Ancient Mariner'is this, that in the autumn of 1797 he, with his sister and Coleridge, started from Alfoxden, to visit Linton and the Valley of Stones, and their united funds being very small, they agreed to defray the expense of the tour by writing a poem, to be sent to the New Monthly Magazine. Accordingly, as they proceeded along the Quantock Hills, by Watchet, the poem of the ‘ Ancient Mariner' was planned. It was founded, as Mr. Coleridge said, on a dream narrated by a friend of his. Much the greater part of the story was Coleridge's invention, but parts were suggested by Wordsworth, for example, that some crime was to be committed which should bring upon the 'old navigator', as Coleridge delighted to call him, the spectral persecution, as a consequence of that crime and his own wanderings.
After giving sundry details as to the further elaboration of the poem, Wordsworth adds that the 'Ancient Mariner' grew and grew till it became too important for its first object, which was limited to their expectation of five pounds, and they began to think of a volume which was to consist of poems on supernatural subjects, taken from common life, but looked at through an imaginative medium.
Wordsworth afterwards regretted that he had taken Coleridge's advice as to the title of 'Lyrical Ballads', the two terms being incongruous — Lyre and Ballad belonging to different ages and different people.
In the month of September, 1798, Wordsworth, accompanied by his sister and Coleridge, proceeded to Germany. At Hamburgh, Wordsworth spent an afternoon with his brother poet Klopstock, then a venerable old man, but retaining much of the vivacity of youth. Notes of their conversation, taken at the time, have appeared in Coleridge's publication - The Friend', as well as in his ‘ Biographia Literaria'.
One passage may be quoted as characteristic of Wordsworth, We talked of tragedy. He (Klopstock) seemed to rate highly the power of exciting tears. I said nothing was more easy than to deluge an audience; that it was done every day by the meanest writers'.
Coleridge went from Hamburgh to Ratzeburg, whilst the Wordsworths journeyed by Lunebourg, Brunswick, to the once romantic city of Goslar, which still retains some vestiges of its ancient imperial splendour. Here they settled down for the winter ; a trying winter it was, the severest of the century. As Wordsworth was not a smoker (a great deficiency in Germany), nor in a position to give entertainments, the season spent at Goslar was, to him and his sister, a chilling one; but they made some progress in their object of acquiring the German language. Here, under the shade of lofty mountains, as the poet and his companion wandered among the pines of the Hartz forest, or as he paced alone the ramparts of the city, were composed several of his poems—amongst them ‘Ruth' and some portion of the 'Prelude', but whatever he wrote had reference to his beloved country, which had become more endeared to him from his temporary absence.
Being now about to enter his thirtieth year, he felt fixed upon
that the time had arrived when he must determine whether he was justified in choosing the poet's life as a profession. In order, therefore, to test his strength, he resolved to attempt some serious essay, and for subject
'The Growth of his own Mind'. He determined to address the poem to Coleridge, on whose sympathy, as a poet and a friend, he could rely.
Though commenced immediately on quitting Goslar, in 1799, it was not till nearly six years after that the * Prelude' was completed. It is a curious fact that Southey had, in early life, often contemplated writing the history of his own mind, and had imagined it would prove the most pleasing task he could be engaged in, but', says his biographer, 'he probably found that it was more agreeable in anticipation than in reality, and when once the thread was broken, he seems neither to have found time nor inclination to resume it'.
Towards the close of this year, we find Wordsworth established in his first settled home at Grasmere, where, in a small cottage, a little removed from the present high-road, he spent eight happy and industrious years, following a determined course of plain living and high thinking'. From a passage in Canto I. of 'The Waggoner', we learn that this cottage flourished, in by-gone days, as a small way-side inn.
There where the Dove and Olive Bough
Here, in addition to the constant companionship of his sister, he enjoyed, for a while, the society of his brother John Coleridge was also a frequent visitor, and it would be difficult to estimate the gain to Wordsworth of such an appreciating and suggestive companion. As to Coleridge, the poetic fire which sparkled so brightly when they took counsel together at Alfoxden, does not appear to have ever kindled again. His mind must have been ill at ease when he contrasted his own career, which he sadly describes as that of one' rolling rudderless', with the manly struggles of his brother bards. There was a daily beauty in the life of Southey especially, which must have made his own look ugly.
In the tranquil seclusion of Town-end, time wore on, poems were written, beautiful scenes explored, and characters studied, but so little impression was made on the public mind that the publishers, though liberal men, could only venture to offer £100 for two editions of two volumes of 'Lyrical Ballads', which Wordsworth now proposed to print, containing the addition of thirty-seven new pieces. The number of his admirers was, however, on the increase, and even the 'Edinburgh Review' bore testimony to his growing popularity.
The year 1802 was a busy and eventful season to Wordsworth. His sister's diary describes ‘William' as hard at work upon the ‘Pedlar', the original title of the 'Excursion’; many minor poems are noticed as in progress; and then a journey to London and hasty trip to Calais are recorded. These wanderings are so constant that reference to them need only be made when some noteworthy incident occurs, or when they give rise to some poetical effusion which calls for remark.
Later on in life, Wordsworth, contrasting his own love of travel with the desire for studious seclusion which characterised his Keswick neighbour, writes in 1843, ‘My lamented friend, Southey, used to say that