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Literature is pure spirit, and hence its truths must be spiritually discerned, yet there are two avenues of approach which are likely to prove the most alluring and satisfactory to the student, — the chronological and that of correlation. Where the mind and art of a poet have developed naturally from the simple to the complex, the chronological order seems the most helpful and appropriate; but when we find midway in a poet's career work which is both history and prophecy, — work which reveals the method and spirit of the past and contains the potency of tho future, — it may well serve as a point around which other poems are to be gathered, and the method of correlation will be found most suggestive.
It follows that the method of annotation in each of these cases should be different. In the chronological, the eye is upon the past, and the principle hitherto evolved by the poet is made use of in the treatment of each successive poem; while in the method of correlation the eye looks before and after in a study of those elements which may be considered as fundamental in the life and art of the poet. I have illustrated the one method in my selections from Milton, Burns, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, and the other in " The Princess " and " Childe Harold." It has been said that as respects a man whom we never saw we are fortunate if we have, as means of knowing him, works revealing the various moods of his mind and emotions of his heart, portraits painted by great artists in a lucky hour of, his youth and age, and friends who had the insight to know and were both able and willing to tell us the truth in regard to his character. In the case of Wordsworth we have all of these and there is no excuse for taking half views of him and his work.
The distinctive features of this edition are: the latest text adopted by the poet; the chronological order of the poems; the date of composition and that of publication of each poem; the Essays and Prefaces on Poetry written between 1800 and 1845; a body of notes which Wordsworth printed in his various editions; notes at the head of each poem, dictated by the poet himself late in life to Miss Fenwick, and known as the "I. F." notes; notes revealing the time, place, occasion, and circumstance, so far as can be ascertained, out of which each poem had its origin; bibliography of Wordsworth's works; a list of biographical and critical reviews.
Long and varied use of Wordsworth in school and college classes; frequent visits to the scenes associated with his work in the inspiring and recreating atmosphere of his beloved lake land; and association with those who knew him as a man and poet, have yielded me material which has proved of the highest value in the tea ching of his poetry and the interesting period of political and literary history to whidih he belonged and in which he was so conspicuous a figure. These experiences have been helpful in preparing this edition, which, it is hoped, will be found equally suited to the needs of the special student and the general reader.
It is to be regretted that the limits of this volume preclude any attempt at giving the interesting variants which the poet from time to time introduced into the text of the poems. These have been given with skill and care in the variorum editions of Professor Knight and Professor Dowden, and any one who cares for such details of workmanship should consult them there.
It hardly need be said that I am indebted to that noble band of disciples of the poet who have written with sympathy, insight, and illumination, upon the various aspects of his mind, art, and influence. One of the most distinguished of these disciples, Mr. Aubrey de Vere, took great delight in my devotion to the poet of his youth. From him, during an acquaintance of nearly a quarter of a century, I received invaluable sympathy and suggestion. On learning of my plan which is revealed in this volume, he wrote me, only shortly before his death, a letter which contained the following significant sentence: "More than anything else, a great and sound literature seems to be now the means of promoting divine truth."
It is not surprising that in many instances the date of composition given in the Fenwick notes is incorrect, owing to the fact that the poet dictated them in his old age and from memory. Many errors have been corrected by the use of Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals and the editions of the poet's works by Professor Dowden and Mr. Thomas Hutchinson; some dates are still conjectural.
In the matter of bibliography original sources have been followed as far as possible; but in several instances I have used the data of Professor Dowden and Mr. J. R. Tutin; this indebtedness is indicated by the terms (D) and (T).