Poems and Extracts/Introduction


The manuscript Album now reproduced was a Christmas gift in 1819 from Wordsworth to the Lady Mary Lowther, and the collection of poems need not be regarded as aiming at being more than its title states: 'Poems and Extracts from the Works of the Countess of Winchelsea and Others.' But even the formation of a private selection of poetical extracts demanded from Wordsworth 'the service of a mind and heart ... heroically fashioned.' The little volume bears ample witness to the care and judgement, the 'high and excellent seriousness' and the moral and didactic tendency of its compiler.

These Parnassian 'riflings' elucidate the Sonnet to the Lady Mary Lowther in an exceptionally satisfactory way.

The Parnassian ore may be only 'mildly gleaming,' not of the richest quality perhaps; but the true metal is there; the sparkle is of gold, not of any baser material. The poet has assayed it and can vouch for its genuineness and purity.

The tests that Wordsworth applied to poetry are well known, and need not be recapitulated; but Lady Winchelsea—therein differing from the artificial verse-writers of the eighteenth century—seemed to him to fulfil one of them to an exceptional degree. She kept her eye fixed upon her object. To do this was, in Wordsworth's view, essential for imaginative truth to nature.

In 1805, writing to Walter Scott, he declared that Dryden's 'cannot be the language of imagination,' because 'there is not a single image from nature in the whole of his works; and in his translation from Virgil, wherever Virgil can be said to have his eye upon his object, Dryden always spoils the passage.'

Ten years later Wordsworth uses almost identical words in his Essay Supplementary to the Preface:

'Now it is remarkable that, excepting a passage or two in the Windsor Forest (4th edition)/Windsor Forest|Windsor Forest of Pope, and some delightful pictures in the Poems of Lady Winchelsea, the Poetry of the period intervening between the publication of the Paradise Lost and the Seasons does not contain a single new image of external nature; and scarcely presents a familiar one from which it can be inferred that the eye of the Poet had been steadily fixed upon his object, much less that his feelings had urged him to work upon it in the spirit of genuine imagination[1].'

Hence this collection has a value as showing Wordsworth's critical faculty at work, and thus affording fresh material for the estimate of his attitude towards poetry.

By displaying the poetical passages that most appealed to him, he unlocks his heart in a new and illuminating way.

The point of time at which the collection was completed is also noteworthy. In 1819 Byron was still near the zenith of his fame. It was something to convince a young lady of taste that the principles of true poetry were not the Byronian principles, but rather the Wordsworthian, as exemplified in the practice of poets older far than Wordsworth.

Incidentally too it might be added that the book is one more refutation of the stupid remark that Wordsworth cared for no one's poetry but his own. There is evidence in plenty that these pieces, though garnered in 1819 for a special purpose, were the tried and loved ingatherings of many years.

A few remarks on them in detail may close this short notice.

Passing over the dedicatory sonnet, of which we give a facsimile, one is rather inclined to wonder whether Wordsworth's first intention may not have been to limit the collection to the writings of Lady Winchelsea. The specimens from Lady Anne fill thirty-two of the ninety-two pages of the manuscript.

The 'Others,' in order of occurrence, are:—

Of Lady Winchelsea it may be said that Wordsworth rediscovered her. Even at the present day her writings have not all found their way into print. A large number—including those from the MS. in the possession of Dr. Edmund Gosse—have been collected in a scholarly edition by Myra Reynolds (Chicago, 1903). The Gosse MS. seems to contain her earlier writings. But there is still an unprinted MS. of her later poems in the possession of Professor Dowden, and these I gather are not inferior to her earlier work.

In the Introduction to the American edition of her poems, pp. lxxv-lxxix, the editor, after saying of the manuscript Album here given to the world that 'this book is probably still in existence somewhere, and the publication of it would be a most interesting addition to our stock of Wordsworthiana,' goes on to quote several letters of Wordsworth's in 1829 and 1830 to Alexander Dyce, in which the writings of Lady Winchelsea are commented on in some detail, and many of the pieces here extracted are mentioned with praise. The correspondence shows how deeply Wordsworth let his impressions sink into his mind. As he once said to Crabb Robinson, he quoted the poets that he loved, and of his love for these pieces of Lady Winchelsea's there can be no doubt[2].

The selections from George Wither suggest that Wordsworth's interest in his earlier writings may have been awakened, or at least stimulated, by Charles Lamb's Essay, as it is evident that (with the exception of the first passage) the transcription has been made from a copy of Lamb's Essay and not from a volume of Wither's works. It shows what Wordsworth must have thought of Lamb's taste and judgement on such a matter, and this is confirmed by the quotation from the Essay on p. 41 of the Album. The Webster extract is also perhaps due to Lamb.

The piece from Cowper is typical of his retired life rather than of his writings, but it harmonizes with the succeeding themes of peace, solitude, and quiet meditation, so as to suggest that Wordsworth is illustrating these Wordsworthian aspects of life rather than the poet's general outlook.

James Thomson is represented by three pieces, for 'the sweet-souled Poet of the Seasons' was a favourite, as the 'Stanzas written in a copy of the Castle of Indolence' sufficiently attest. The subject matter of the extracts is again 'mildly-pleasing solitude,' then 'the retired life' (p. 49), and last (p. 83) the gradual loss of the wealth of life as friends pass away and we are left alone. A fragment from Beattie's poem on Retirement comes next, then some lines by Langhorne on the contemplative life, the second piece by Thomson, and Pope's Ode on Solitude, quoted partly perhaps as a curiosity of literature because 'written at about twelve years old.'

W. J. Mickle, Wordsworth told Miss Fenwick, 'as it appears from his poem on Sir Martin, was not without poetic feelings[3],' and thirty-two lines of natural description from the poem here illustrate this estimate. Mickle was one of the Spenserians, and his attempt to revive the spirit of Spenser has the touch of incongruity that marred all their work. It is possible that a passage (not here given) in Sir Martyn may have influenced Wordsworth's portrait of the 'youth from Georgia's shore' in Ruth.

The extract from Armstrong's Art of Preserving Health is from that 'sublime apostrophe to the great rivers of the earth,' which Wordsworth mentions (Knight's ed. 1882–4, vol. vi. p. 352). In the note on the Sonnet 'Not like his great compeers' (1820) Wordsworth also expresses his admiration for 'those sublime images which Armstrong has so finely described.'

The selections from Akenside exemplify a form of poetry that is now seemingly extinct, but that once suited the 'pensive' mood of poetic meditation. Wordsworth himself wrote and translated some good 'Inscriptions,' and here we see the models that he approved. They too deal with the life of quiet meditation, and the disturbing effect of passion.

In connexion with the three sonnets from Shakespeare that follow, it is enough to refer to Wordsworth's remarks in his 'Essay supplementary to the Preface' (1815). In 1819 people had still to be educated into reading Shakespeare's sonnets.

Marvell's beautiful lines on the dewdrop show the great significance of Wordsworth's remark somewhere that the sonnet should resemble a drop of dew.

Passing the short extract from Anne Killigrew—again on the theme of the glory of solitary communion with the divine in nature—we come to four pages of extracts from John Dyer's Ruins of Rome. The notes will give evidence of the selective skill shown by Wordsworth in dealing with this poem, and reference to Wordsworth's own writings will attest his appreciation of Dyer's work. In Professor Knights Life of W. (Works, x. 324), Wordsworth says: 'a beautiful instance of the modifying and investive power of imagination may be seen in that noble passage in Dyer's Ruins of Rome, where the poet hears the voice of Time; and in Thomson's description of the streets of Cairo, expecting the arrival of the caravan which has perished in the storm.' The 'noble passage' from Dyer will be found below, p. 71; and the description of the Caravan (from Summer, 1. 980) is prefixed to The Waggoner.

Wordsworth thought that Dyer was undeservedly neglected. Reference may be made to the 'Bard of the Fleece' sonnet, and note; and to notes on Excursion, Book viii, and on the Duddon Sonnets.

The second extract from Waller has an interesting change that seems due to Wordsworth's dissatisfaction with the wording of the original. Waller wrote (II. 11–12, p. 73):

'And then what wonders shall you do,
 Whose dawning beauty warms us so?'

But Wordsworth chastens this to

'If such thy dawning beauty's power
 Who shall abide its noon-tide hour?'

Two 'Eminent Ladies' follow, Mrs. Pilkington and Miss Warton. The tone of both is elegiac and sad, but their verse is touched with real sorrow, and not merely by the 'pensiveness' of the mid-eighteenth century. An epitaph by Thomas Carew sustains the ordering of subject-matter already noticed, as do some noble elegiac lines by Sir John Beaumont.

Wordsworth's friend Sir George came from this old poetic Beaumont stock, and probably it was at Coleorton that the poet first happened on that scarce little volume 'Bosworth Field, with a taste of the variety of other poems, left by Sir John Beaumont, Baronet, deceased,' 1629. These touching lines are at p. 165.

In the first Coleorton Inscription Wordsworth alludes to

    'him who sang how spear and shield
In civil conflict met on Bosworth Field,'

and other references to Beaumont occur.

Wordsworth had some thoughts of republishing Sir John Beaumonts Poems, but Chalmers did so instead[4].

Like Beaumont, Doddridge meditates on the life beyond life.

The pathetic lines by Captain Thomas James have an additional interest as connecting Wordsworth with a book that in some particulars may have inspired the author of the Ancient Mariner. The question is a thorny one, and I can only refer the student to Mr. Ivor James's 'The Source of the Ancient Mariner,' and to the later commentators on that poem. It has been conjectured that Coleridge had come across Captain James's 'Strange and Dangerous Voyage' (1633) in the Bristol Library, and here at least we have proof that in 1819 one of the authors of Lyrical Ballads had in his possession a correct transcript of a poem from James's book, and that he valued the poem so highly as to include it in his Parnassian collection.

The extract from Samuel—not William—Daniel is the longest in the volume, and in some respects the most Wordsworthian. Of the interest Wordsworth felt in Daniel's poems there are many traces. One such has not been noticed hitherto, in the Ode on Intimations of Immortality, where the line 'Filling from time to time his "hum'rous stage"' echoes Daniel's 'I do not here upon this hum'rous stage Bring my transformed muse' (Works, ed. Grosart, i. 223). Again, in the Inscriptions ('Beneath yon eastern ridge') a line is quoted from Daniel, to illustrate line 18 of the Inscription (1811)[5] So early as Oct. 24, 1801, Dorothy notes in her Grasmere Journal, 'We sat by the fire without work for some time, then Mary read a poem of Daniel.' In the Excursion (Book iv. II. 326–333) are quoted II. 89–96 (page 89 below) from this poem to the Countess of Cumberland, and commented on in Wordsworth's note.

Last comes Christopher Smart, the prosaic person who for one moment touched 'the superhuman poet pair,' Milton and Keats. Browning cannot understand the madness of Smart; at least he would know 'Why only once the fireflame was.' Wordsworth is not so inquisitive into souls, and accepts the legendary tale that Smart's lines were 'written whilst confined in a madhouse, with a key on a wainscot. The rest of them are lost.' The key and wainscot tradition comes from Hawkesworth, quoted in Anderson's British Poets, xi. 122, where (p. 203) are given five 'Stanzas, in a song to David.' Quite possibly Smart did write some stanzas on the wall of his place of confinement, but lunatics are not usually provided with keys, and the story is suspiciously reminiscent of Pope's

'Is there, who, lock'd from ink and paper, scrawls
With desperate charcoal round his darkened walls?'

The whole of Smart's poem was reprinted in 1819; and again (with an interesting preface by Mr. Streatfield) in 1901. In the full text the three stanzas Wordsworth gives occur as Nos. 18, 21, and 40. Thus the diapason closes with an impassioned hymn of praise to

'the Mighty Source
Of all things, the stupendous force
On which all things depend.'

We may turn back to the Dedicatory sonnet to see how the poet surveys his work:

'a grotto bright—and clear
From stain or taint.'

As regards the present impression. Miss Hutchinson's beautiful transcript of these Poems and Extracts is here faithfully reproduced in print, page for page and line for line, even to the smallest slips of her pen. The pages and lines have been numbered for convenience of reference, otherwise no change has been made in pp. 1–92.

Lovers of Wordsworth will appreciate the generosity of Mr. John Rogers Rees, in letting me 'rifle' this treasure from that Parnassian Cave, his Library. Mr. Rogers Rees has increased the obligation by contributing an interesting preface, and Miss Rogers Rees by making an admirably executed type-written copy for working purposes.

  1. This is quoted from the 1815 edition of the Poems, vol. i, p. 358; in later editions it reads: 'Now it is remarkable that, excepting the Nocturnal Reverie of Lady Winchelsea and a passage or two in the Windsor Forest of Pope,' &c.
  2. On Wordsworth's attitude to other poets, see Knight's edition (1882–4), xi. 259; x. 263, 309, 322; and Fenwick note to second poem to Lycoris: 'Enough of climbing toil.'
  3. See Fenwick note to the sonnet 'Part fenced by man, part by a rugged steep' (1831).
  4. See Knight's W., 1882–4, vol. x. p. 73, and vol. iv. pp. 78, 84.
  5. See Knight's W., vol. iv. p. 82, and see notes on Eccles. Sonn., I. xi, on his obligations to various prose writers, Daniel included. See for above extract from D. W.'s Journal, Knight, ix. 280.