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Numéro 9, février 1998

Lyrical Ballads, 1798-1998

Sous la direction de Nicola Trott et Seamus Perry

Direction : Michael Eberle-Sinatra (directeur)

Éditeur : Université de Montréal

ISSN : 1467-1255 (numérique)

DOI : 10.7202/005782ar

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Article

'Gems of a soft and permanent lustre': The Reception and Influence of the Lyrical Ballads in America

Joel Pace

Blackfriars, Oxford


1

The bicentenary of the Lyrical Ballads will witness new approaches to the poems as well as the poets themselves. Stephen Gill's Wordsworth and the Victorians will widen the vistas of scholarship which has previously focused on aspects of publication and reception during the poet's lifetime. This year will also bring about an unprecedented publishing endeavour. Bruce Graver and Ron Tetreault's electronic edition of the Lyrical Ballads will contain the first ever reproduction of the 1802 Philadelphia Ballads . As this illustrates, the bicentennial will provide the perfect opportunity to bring the publication, reception and influence of the work in America to the attention of the scholarly community. The Ballads appeared in America in the wake of its Revolution, when minds were ripe for new philosophies both poetical and political. Although these early Americans had severed their ties to England's government, there were many who were still loyal to her literature.

2

In this essay, I will focus on aspects of the American Ballads mainly in reference to Wordsworth. To make up for this unequal treatment, I think it necessary to say a few words about Coleridge's reception in the United States. Coleridge enjoyed equal if not more popularity than his fellow poet, but on the whole Americans simply were not aware of Coleridge's presence in the collection until much later. In the early 1800s, newspapers did their fair share to confound readers as to Coleridge's relationship with Wordsworth and involvement in the work. One advertisement in Relf's Philadelphia Gazette actually uses him to promote the Ballads

The celebrated Mr. COLERIDGE in a note to the last edition of his Poems, speaking of Mr. Wordsworth, says, he is "one whom I deem unrivall'd among the Writers of the present day in manly sentiment, novel imagery, and vivid colouring"

—but does not specify that the two collaborated on the work being advertised. As it intimates, the pre-1802 imported elitions of Coleridge fared a lot better than those of Wordsworth. Even so, he was not the most popular Lake Poet since by this time both Southey's Poems and Joan of Arc had been reprinted in Boston. [1]

3

The confusion in America that surrounded Wordsworth worked much to his advantage in gaining an audience. Take, for instance, these laudatory remarks on the poem 'Love', which contain another example of credit for the Ballads being given solely to Wordsworth who, according to the editor,

is a favourite poet, because, as Prior somewhere says, he talks like a man of this world . He is an intelligible and feeling writer. His description of the passion of Love, in the following Poem, is so exact, that it cannot fail to please, those, who admire the true, as well as the beautiful, and the two stanzas, preceding the last, will be remembered by all, who have been clasped to the bosom of Beauty. [2]

By the 1830s, Coleridge was a favourite with the people and was certainly a figure to whom many Americans, such as Emerson and William Ellery Channing to name just two, [3] made pilgrimages. 1831 is noteworthy because an edition of The Friend appeared in Vermont during this year as well. This publication secured him a steady readership which he maintained throughout the 1830s. After his death, his writings experienced a rise in popularity, particularly in Massachusetts where they were borrowed and studied by the professors and students of Harvard Divinity School and the readers of the Boston Athenaeum. [4] Columbia College, New York was also a pro-Coleridgean stronghold as John MacVickar, who professed moral philosophy there, edited an American edition of Aids to Reflection to satisfy the growing demand for an affordable copy of the work.

4

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, the author and Transcendentalist, wrote a letter to Wordsworth from her Massachusetts home in February of 1838. In addition to her missive, she sent a parcel which contained some writings of members of her circle, namely Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales and Emerson's Nature . In a plea for approval for these works, she attempted to convince Wordsworth that these authors have taken up their pens in response to his (and Coleridge's) calling:

Am I right in supposing you care for our American authors? - You will understand still better perhaps what may be hoped from us - by knowing how extensively and powerfully your own and Mr. Coleridge's works are acting upon us. [5]

As far as Wordsworth's influence is concerned, his poems in the Lyrical Ballads are the ones, perhaps with the exception of The Excursion , which had the most profound impact on American literature of the nineteenth century.

5

Of the many authors who struggled to shake off Wordsworth's influence, Emerson goes through the most peculiarly Bloomian agon . A brief look at Emerson's bout is one of the best ways to portray the belated reception the poems received in New England. An examination of the earliest reprints and criticisms of the work in a Philadelphia newspaper, as well as a separate treatment of Emersonian reception affords us a double temporal-perspective. As a prime agent of American literature and criticism, Emerson is an essential component to any study which seeks to portray the reception and influence of the Ballads in America. But the belated reception of the Ballads in relation to Emerson is the destination of this study and not its starting point. We begin with the very first appearance of the poems in an American journal and this takes us back to late eighteenth century New Hampshire.

6

The very first American reprint from the collection was 'Goody Blake and Harry Gill' which appeared in the 2 September 1799 issue of the Farmer's Museum , a newspaper edited by Joseph Dennie, one of the foremost critics of the time. Some of the earliest occurrences of praise and parody of Wordsworth and the Ballads occur in the Port Folio , a Philadelphia journal which was also edited by Dennie under the pseudonym of Oliver Oldschool. The Port Folio 's love affair with the poetry of the Ballads was first unearthed in the 1930s; yet it seems the discovery was merely used to document the beginnings of American critical responses to the poems. [6] Left buried were the religious aspects of the context of Philadelphia, as well as the many differences between American and English critical opinions of the edition and its principal poet. Chronicling these aspects provides a valuable means of tracing the untold story of the Lyrical Ballads ' reception in America.

7

The earliest review to appear in America was auspicious and was taken from one of the very few favourable responses the collection received in its native land. The article originally appeared in the British Critic in February of 1801 and was reprinted by the Port Folio in the summer of that same year. [7] The poetic diction is praised (in the very first paragraph) as having adopted

a purity of expression...infinitely more correspondent with true feeling than what, by the courtesy of the day, is usually called poetical language. [8]

The reviewer concludes with the notion that Wordsworth represents the next movement in and revitalisation of poetry:

that man may be considered as a public benefactor, who, with talents equal to the task, which is arduous, recals attention to the more natural style, and shows, what may be effected by simple language, expressive of human passions, and genuine, not artificial feelings. In this character, Mr. Wordsworth appears; and appears, with a success, to which we could, by no means, refuse our approbation. [9]

This emphasis on Wordsworth's natural and simple style which both uses and evokes emotion was not meant to be a religious affirmation of the poet, but in the context of the Port Folio it constituted one. The Port Folio employed the aesthetic of typographical simplicity in an attempt to align the publication with certain religious notions; according to Oldschool:

The paper is neither to be wire woven , nor hot pressed , and it certainly, in more senses than one, shall not be cream coloured ; but, in a plain dress of Quaker simplicity... [10]

He introduces his reprint of 'Simon Lee' with a similar sentiment, praising Lyrical Ballads as 'a collection remarkable for originality, simplicity, and nature'. [11]

8

Wordsworth could not have had a better introduction into Pennsylvania, a state named after its Quaker founder. Oldschool's newspaper was instrumental in initiating the vogue of Wordsworth in Philadelphia as well as in the rest of the country, as it had subscribers in nearly every state. By 1803, he had become not only a poet whose verses embodied the austerity of the meeting places and dress of the Society of Friends, but also a moral guide to the religious group. The lines which precede the reprinting of 'A whirl blast from behind the Hill' note that he

has a rare talent of remarking many of the minuter operations of Nature, and of describing them at once in the simplest, and yet most interesting manner. The use that he derives from his observation of a rural circumstance, is a good lesson to those, who walk in the forest. [12]

Oldschool's assessment hints at the practice of revelation through 'inner light', a concept which was espoused by the founder of the sect, George Fox, who spent much time fasting, reading his Bible, and receiving visions or revelations in Nature. 'A Whirl blast from behind the Hill' realises this concept in the final four lines:

Oh! grant me, Heaven, a heart at ease,

That I may never cease to find

Even in appearances like these,

Enough to nourish and to stir my mind. [13]

I think the perception of Wordsworth as a spiritual inspiration is further evidenced by the fact that the Port Folio , according to the Advertisement to the first edition, was meant to offer something 'auxiliary to sound principles, which after church, "retired leisure" may read on Sunday'. [14] This reception of the Ballads differed greatly from that in England as the initial review of the poems in the British Critic notes that the second canto of 'The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere'

9

has much merit, if we except the very unwarrantable comparison of the Sun to that which no man can conceive:—"like God's own head," a simile which makes a reader shudder; not with poetical feeling, but with religious disapprobation. [15]

10

One reason why Lyrical Ballads was popular in America is the fact that the first appearance (in book form) was made with a substantially larger and more polished body of work. The American edition contained (in one volume) all the contents of the 1798 and 1800 English editions. One of the many testimonies to the success of the American edition was written by Oldschool about a month after it was published. In this note, he informs his readers that the

popularity of Wordsworth's Ballads increases every hour. We are confident that Messrs. Humphreys and Groff, the praise worthy publishers of poetry, not unworthy of the muse of CHATTERTON, will be amply remunerated for their care and expense in publishing a complete and neat edition of verses, which will outlive their century . [16]

Oldshool's reference to the ballads as verses that will 'outlive their century ' lends a permanence to a genre that had never before been regarded as an enduring form of literature. The very material form of most ballads as broad sheets attests to their ephemerality. Oldschool was not the only one to recognise the superiority of Wordsworth and Coleridge's ballads to other verses that bear the same name. The advertisement for the edition in Relf's Philadelphia Gazette delineates this distinction:

let not the name of Ballads give rise to prejudices in the minds of those who have never seen this work; for it is as much Superior to those things commonly known by that name, as happiness is preferable to misery. [17]

The author of this advertisement refers to ballads pejoratively as 'things', and makes it clear that the critical aftertaste of such works is sour. Most American examples of the form, like Lyrical Ballads , were written in vernacular; however there the similarities cease as most were not written for any other purpose than to be humorous . Wordsworth and Coleridge's ballads were able to change the nature of these poems in America.

11

The earliest known example of such an influence is printed in the Port Folio and is signed with the initial 'O'. The introduction to the poem reads as follows:

BALLAD.

[The following ballad is founded upon a melancholy event, which occurred, during the last summer, about three miles from the city of Philadelphia, upon the Schuylkill. The circumstances supposed to be detailed by the unfortunate mother, are literally true.] [18]

This preface is remarkably similar to Wordsworth's Advertisement in which he notes that the "tale of Goody Blake and Harry Gill is founded on a well authenticated fact which happened in Warwickshire". [19] The founding of the ballad on a drowning in the Schuylkill river is evidence that it is beginning to catalogue local history as Wordsworth's ballads do. Another similar element is the use of a woman narrator of the poem; a voice which Wordsworth takes on in 'The Female Vagrant' and 'The Complaint of the Forsaken Indian Woman'. Both the use of the woman speaker, as well as the fact that the circumstances described are 'literally true' indicate that the American 'Ballad' corresponds to Wordsworth's criteria that poetry should contain a 'natural delineation of human characters, human passions, and human incidents.' [20] Also, the poem, like 'Michael', represents a story that pertains to a specific geographic location.

12

The American ballad relates the story of a mother who roams incessantly by the shore of the waters where her boy was drowned. In addition to the plot being very similar to 'The Thorn' the poetry itself contains many references to Lyrical Ballads . The poem begins with the lines:

Pale wanderer of the silent night!

Why dost thou roam the river's side?

Why turn'st thou, shudd'ring with affright,

To gaze in anguish on the tide!

The chilling damp bedews thy hair,

Thy cheek is wan thy looks are wild;

"Ah! wonder not at my despair,"

She cries, "I've lost my darling child.["]

This opening description is indebted to that of 'The Mad Mother'

Her eyes are wild, her head is bare,

The sun has burnt her coal black hair,

Her eye brows have a rusty stain.

ll. 1 3.

Just as the above poem alludes to the mother's state of mind through her description so also does the 'Ballad'. The fate of the boy is prefigured in the reference to 'A Slumber did my Spirit Seal':

"Last night, if slumber seal'd my eye,

I woke from some bewilder'd dream;

And as the night-wind clamour'd by,

I thought I heard my darling scream.

"And at my window oft I stood,

And gazed with wildly anxious eye:

And shudd'ring, watch'd the gliding flood,

To see his pale corse floating by.

...Her shrieks of anguish fill'd the air,

The pitying neighbours crowded round!

His corse, they from the waters bear,

And soon they laid him in the ground.

ll. 61 84.

Just as the deceased in 'A Slumber did my Spirit Seal' becomes 'Roll'd round in earth's diurnal course / With rocks and stones and trees!' so also is the drowned boy laid in the tomb of nature. [21] There is the sense that the boy (like Wordsworth's Boy of Winander) becomes a genius loci, as the mother now

...with melancholy eye,

Oft times she gazes on the wave;

She thinks upon her lovely boy,

And shudd'ring views his wat'ry grave.

ll. 85 8.

The mother does not return to the place where the child is buried but rather to the water where his spirit seems to be. This persistent frequenting of the natural object associated with the death of the child is very similar to Martha Ray's constant vigilance and emotional reaction to the thorn. The American 'Ballad' is written in almost the same rhyme scheme and meter as 'A Slumber Did my Spirit Seal' save that Wordsworth's poem alternates between six and eight metrical feet per line whereas the entire American 'Ballad' is in tetrameter. All of the Wordsworthian influences on the 'Ballad' are melancholy poems. Although English broadside ballads had long contained elegiac sentiments, in America such a tone for a ballad was rare if not unprecedented. [22] The use of 'The Thorn' as a poetic model is chronologically feasible as it was printed in the Port Folio on the twenty-first of March in 1801 and the American 'Ballad' was not printed until the sixth of June that same year. The influence of these and other poems from Lyrical Ballads on the American piece is also all the more viable as both the 1798 and the 1800 English editions were available in America prior to the publication of the 'Ballad'. [23]

13

In England, the success of Wordsworth and Coleridge's publication was impaired by the overtones of its title. Jeffrey, in particular, refers to the ballad genre and its readership as inferior:

After all, it must be admitted, that there is a class of persons (we are afraid they cannot be called readers ), to whom the representation of vulgar manners, in vulgar language, will afford much entertainment. We are afraid, however, that the ingenious writers who supply the hawkers and ballad singers, have very nearly monopolized that department, and are probably better qualified to hit the taste of their customers, than Mr. Southey, or any of his brethren, can yet pretend to be. To fit them for the higher task of original composition, it would not be amiss if they were to undertake a translation of Pope or Milton into the vulgar tongue, for the benefit of those children of nature. [24]

Through his reprints and critical commentaries, Oldschool, on the other hand, endows the ballad with integrity and rids it of its negative connotations:

We have had frequent occasion in the course of our literary selections, to express the warmest admiration of the genius, spirit, and simplicity of "Lyrical Ballads," a volume, which contains more genuine poetry, than is to be found, except in the volumes of SHAKSPEARE and CHATTERTON.—The "LITERARY" article, borrowed from the British Critic, and inserted in our front pages, corroborates the partiality of the editor for the talents of Mr. Wordsworth. [25]

We can see how the placement of Wordsworth just below Shakespeare is a juxtaposition that implies he has done for the ballad what Shakespeare did for the sonnet. This transformation of the form into his own strain is dubbed an act of 'genius' by Oldschool. In the very same column, he applies this word in praise of the American ballader:

It is delightful to the editor to obtain original poetry of such merit as adorns the last page in his latest papers. The "Ballad," which stands at the head of the poetical department in the last Port Folio, is alike faithful to truth, dear to humanity, and honourable to GENIUS. [26]

Oldschool's praise of Wordsworth was immediate, but short lived; for eventually his paper printed attacks on the diction and morals of the poet as he slowly but inexorably succumbs to the views of the Edinburgh Review . In 1804 Robert Rose published his parodies of Wordsworth in the Port Folio and eventually a book of them was issued in 1810. [27] By this year Wordsworth was beginning to be satirised in his native country as English Bards and Scotch Reviewers was in its fourth edition and in 1819 and 1821 Reynolds' 'Peter Bell' and the parody 'The Nose Drop', respectively, were published. [28]

14

Rose's introduction to his 'A Lyrical Ballad' is a biting attack on Wordsworth's poetic language. 'I never once had an idea that I was a poet', confesses Rose,

till the other day, when I got a very pretty book to read, and found, that the author and I felt exactly alike. I always thought that to make verses, and them like, was right down hard; but it an't so at all. You wouldn't, perhaps, believe it, sir, but I declare I can write as fast as any of your correspondents; besides, what I write is so vastly natural, that I'm sure you'll like it. I'm sure its [sic] better than writing about things one don't understand. However, as it an't right to say too much for one's self, you shall have a specimen of my abilities. [29]

He is rewriting Wordsworth's advertisement to the 1798 edition and demonstrating in his own experiment how far 'the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic' parody. [30] He is expressing his opinion that 'the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar and not of sufficient dignity.' [31] It is implicit in Rose's advertisement that the office of the poet has been degraded. When he writes 'I thought to make verses and them like was right down hard' he is expressing that a poet is set apart from other men by his ability to weave metre from the spool of lofty language and to translate reality into imaginative imagery. There is a chastisement levelled at Wordsworth for his egotism, with the line 'it an't right to say to much for one's self'. Albeit fifteen years later, a similar strain is taken up in England by Reynolds who writes of the 1798 Lyrical Ballads :

it is now a period of one and twenty years since I first wrote some of the most perfect compositions (except certain pieces I have written in my later days) that have ever dropped from poetical pen. My heart hath been right and powerful all its years. I never thought an evil or a weak thought my whole life. [32]

Graeme Stones, in his article, 'The "Vile Art" of Romantic Parody', points out quite rightly that the English parodies of this time are 'an indication that it is the epic Wordsworth who is the real concern, rather than the lyrical'. [33] The notion that the parodies of Wordsworth in America were mainly of the lyrical and simple Wordsworth is confirmed by the fact that one of the last Wordsworth poems Oldschool ever reprints appears with its parody in the column entitled 'Levity'. [34]

15

In his book, Sketches in Verse , Rose adds the following note to his poems:

I hope the nimium ne crede colori of my moral, in the last stanza, (which, I venture to assert, is perfectly Wordsworthian,) will not be overlooked. Some pseudo criticks take the liberty of blaming my lyrical precursor, for not closing all his ballads with setentious and pithy morality, adapted to the capacity of his readers; instead of which, they observe, that this has either not been attempted, or in so very abstruse a manner, as to be entirely beyond their comprehension. [35]

Although Oldschool was able to extricate Quaker morals from Wordsworth's works, Rose's interpretation detects a fair amount of ambiguity in the final stanzas of many of the poems in Lyrical Ballads . This inconclusiveness is reflected in the final stanzas of each of his parodies. His poem entitled 'A humble Imitation of Some Stanzas, written by W. Wordsworth, in Germany, on one of the coldest days of the century' typifies Rose's idea of a Wordsworthian denouement. [36]

16

The last stanza of the burlesque, particularly the last line ('I ne'er would be wedded again') lends itself perfectly well to the moral reading of his love and fidelity to Molly lasting beyond the grave. Yet the amphibology of the verse also allows it to be read as an oath that he will never again suffer through such torment (of getting walloped over the head with tongs). Rose's sequence of Molly poems is a well-constructed parody of Wordsworth's Lucy poems. The final stanza of Rose's 'A Humble Imitation' is a reference to the morally opaque ending of 'Strange Fits of Passion I Have Known', in which the speaker also dwells upon the death of his lover:

What fond and wayward thoughts will slide

Into a Lover's head

"O mercy!" to myself I cried,

"If Lucy should be dead!" [37]

Wordsworth's intention is to represent the love of the speaker for Lucy; nevertheless, for Rose the expression does not convey this insofar as the speaker's thought of Lucy's death is described as 'wayward' which can also signify a perverse or wrong notion.

* * * * * *

17

Oldschool's portrayal of Wordsworth as a moral guide is the first in a long progression of Wordsworth's religious affiliations in America. Eventually, he evolves from the poet of the Quakers to the poet of the Unitarians; and both the religious and literary notions of his poetry have an effect on the Transcendentalists. This shift has much to do with the influence of the American visitors to Rydal Mount, around eighteen percent of whom were Unitarian. [38] Although it was published thirty-four years after the American volume of Lyrical Ballads , Emerson's Nature exemplifies the influence of the poems. Espousing his own literary revolution and call to pens, Emerson writes:

Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us and invite us by the powers they supply, to action. [39]

In his preface to the 1800 edition, Wordsworth explains (in reference to the subject matter of his poems) that

Low and rustic life was generally chosen because in that situation the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity...and lastly, because in that situation the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature. [40]

It is not Emerson's exact terminology which recalls Wordsworth, it is rather the function of the repudiation of the epic hero, classical imagery and lofty diction for the subjects, surroundings and speech of ordinary men which brings to mind Emerson's questioning of tradition.

18

As early as 1837, Emerson publicly acknowledged his source of inspiration in Wordsworth. 'I embrace the common', he writes in a concise explanation of his creative credo ,

...I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low. ...This idea has inspired the genius of Goldsmith, Burns, Cowper, and, in a newer time, of Goethe, Wordsworth and Carlyle. ...This writing is blood-warm. Man is surprised to find that things near are not less beautiful and wondrous than things remote. The near explains the far. The drop is a small ocean. A man is related to all nature. [41]

Emerson's statement seems very straightforward, and the ease with which it is expressed leads us to believe that he has always been a torchbearer in Wordsworth's shrine. But this is Emerson's mask which does an excellent job of covering up the face of the fifteen year old Harvard student who scribbled in his notebook: 'I have thirsted to abuse the poetical character of Mr Wordsworth whose poems have lately been read to me'. [42] We notice he has not of yet read the poems himself, so why should he experience such disdain? Curiously enough, the same notebook contains several references to the Edinburgh Review . Moreover, Emerson's copy of Wordsworth makes reference to Jeffrey's criticisms as well. [43] Harold Bloom's statement that Emerson owed much to Wordsworth but did not 'feel the chill of being darkened by a precursor's shadow' [44] is easy to support based on the Emerson of 1837, however the Ralph Waldo of 1819 who is barely an ephebe , seems to be shivering in the umbrae of both Wordsworth and Jeffrey. When Bloom theorises about one poet misreading another, the young poet's reading is both creative and original. This conclusion presupposes that the young poet's mind is not already infected with the misprison of others, however Emerson's initial reading is nothing more than a repetition of Jeffrey's. When Emerson swerves into his own thought it is not solely a misprision of Wordsworth, but necessarily a misreading of Jeffrey's misreading of Wordsworth. The Scottish critic's views bombarded American minds with such force that after the 1802 Philadelphia Ballads , an edition of Wordsworth was not reprinted in America until 1824. Oldschool is just one of the many who dropped everything original in order to help spread the word according to Jeffrey whose critical-clinamen of Wordsworth drew two countries under its yoke.

19

Luckily for the Ballads , all of Wordsworth's contributions to the collection were reprinted in the 1824 Boston edition of his Poetical Works . The year of publication finds Emerson's aunt influencing him to shake the views of others and to develop the critical independence necessary to interpret correctly the poetry of Nature and of Wordsworth:

Imagination will always revolt at the {sight} loss^ of the butterfly's beauty, & the rude waste of the rich dew of the welkin from its own azure cups, -but be patient....Byron & Wordsworth have their best & only intensely burnished their pens. Would to Providence your unfoldings might be there-that it were not a wild & fruitless wish that you could be disunited from travelling with the souls of other men...reading & writing with one vital time sated idea-their opinions . [45]

His aunt is of course another source of critical influence as regards the budding essayist's views of Wordsworth. She mentions his poetry more than once in a complimentary tone. As is to be expected, Emerson's copy of Wordsworth shows that he read and indeed liked several poems from the Ballads . Never before considered and certainly not as evidence of influence (as it is outside the sphere of what Bloom would deem considerable), Emerson's edition shows that he marked favourite poems such as 'Goody Blake and Harry Gill', 'The Tables Turned', 'The Fountain' and 'Tintern Abbey'. There is a marginal note in his copy which he tried to erase at a later date. This erasure shows an Emerson attempting to cover his tracks which tell a plain tale of surpressed admiration for the poetry. Only the impressions of his pencil are left. They reveal Emerson's first approbation of the diction and content of Wordsworth's verse. This note in the margin also adds one more Emersonian critical comment to the many that are already widely published and known. After the 'Intimations Ode' Emerson writes that

The Ode is truly noble, it will redeem volumes of absurdities. There is Wonderful eloquence of sentiment, if any distinction might be made, in the V & the XI stanzas. [46]

Dated 18 June 1826, this note is the first example of Emerson breaking the shell of Jeffrey's literary estimations in which his own thoughts had been incubating for so long.

20

Other evidence, such as the journals, has already been thoroughly considered by scholars such as John Brookes Moore who concluded that:

One so persistently occupied with Wordsworth's productions could scarcely have said less about his striking pantheistic attitude. The few sentences that deal with Wordsworth's treatment of nature are not complimentary-are not what would seem to many of us sympathetic. The posture of Emerson is always precisely ciritical with rather more impatience than enthusiasm, perhaps, but never impatience sufficient to discourage further perusals of Wordsworth. The evidence makes against the likelihood of any very profound influence of the Wordsworthian view of nature upon the Emersonian view which has, in 1836, already taken explicit shape. [47]

In the wake of Bloom, evidence that Emerson's remarks about Wordsworth's Nature were not complimentary seem more like Emerson struggling with a stronger poet. He is never indifferent to the Nature of the Ballads ; however this point alone is not sufficient enough make us reconsider the case. When Elizabeth Peabody sent Wordsworth a copy of Emerson's Nature she was sure to point out to him: ' how extensively and powerfully your own and Mr. Coleridge's works are acting upon us'. [48] This letter makes much more sense if interpreted in reference to the fact that Emerson's marked the following lines of 'The Tables Turned':

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!

And he is no mean preacher;

Come forth into the light of things,

Let Nature be your teacher...

ll. 13-6.

It then comes as no surprise that he marks the 'And I have felt a presence' passage of 'Tintern Abbey' as well. This poem was to haunt him and America for long after. When he visited Wordsworth in 1833 he told the poet that 'Tintern Abbey appeared to be the favorite poem with the public.' [49] Forty-one years later Emerson thrust the poem (as well as 'There was a boy' and 'Lucy') on the American public again in Parnassus , an anthology of his most beloved poems. In the introduction, Emerson wrestles with Wordsworth:

...There are poets who rose slowly, and wrote badly, and had yet a true calling, and, after a hundred failures, arrived at pure power; as Wordsworth, encumbered for years with childish whims, but at last, by his religious insight, lifted to genius. [50]

It would seem that Emerson has moved from the shadow of Jeffrey's views and is undergoing apophrades or a return of the dead in reference to Wordsworth. We see that he has instead settled into his own view which is a combination of the Wordsworthian criticism that rose out of Edinburgh and the critical views of William Ellery Channing, Elizabeth Peabody and other Transcendentalists who hailed Wordsworth as the prophet of Nature. Parnassus itself is an anthology of influences and the confession of a writer who is now strong enough to face his predecessors.

21

The belatedness of the 1824 reprint of most of the Ballads caused Americans to associate Wordsworth with his earlier radicalism as expressed in these poems. 1834 marks the date when American criticism on the whole commenced its reaction to the Edinburgh Review and began once again to espouse opinions that differed from those in England. The American publication and reception of Wordsworth from 1802-24 has been overlooked because there were so few editions published (compared to the abundance of English works) in this period. [51] These facts have deceived many insofar as the anthologies and journals of these years are filled with Wordsworthiana (including many reprints of poems from the Ballads ) that focuses on the religious aspects of his view of the natural world. It is worth mentioning that of the one hundred plus Americans who visited and/or wrote to him, forty percent or so were persons of letters and nearly all of them were linked to the Transcendentalists. These persons of letters contributed to and/or edited over 30 different periodicals which were very important in shaping the American understanding of Wordsworth's poetry and its relation to American Literature. The view that the American portrayal of Wordsworth was unbiassed cannot be sustained. It appears to be a consciously constructed persona which presented him as, in the words of Elizabeth Peabody, "the messiah of the reign of the saints, a true Christian prophet". [52] The numerous American thinkers who promulgated this opinion created a critical tractor-beam strong enough to pull all of America into a reaction against the many abuses that Jeffrey and others had heaped on Wordsworth. [53]

22

Many American visitors to Rydal Mount, through a misprision of Wordsworth himself, found exactly the person they were looking for: the poet of the Ballads . Emerson was not fooled. He saw a very wizened but nonetheless conservative advocate of the religious and political status quo. It is not, as Bloom would expect, that Emerson's urge to complete Wordsworth was due to misreading Wordsworth the poet, but due to a correct reading of Wordsworth the person. Emerson accurately estimated that this was not a prophet who was capable of following through with the motion of the Ballads until it culminated in The Recluse . [54] It is then indeed feasible to posit the theory that Nature , Emerson's revival of and response to Wordsworth, contains blueprints for completing Wordsworth's Gothic Cathedral.

23

Although Bloom would disagree, I think there is much to be gained from consideration of textual similarities. The whole principle of Nature 's organisation seems based largely upon 'Tintern Abbey', particularly the progression of Emerson's chapters from 'Commodity' to 'Beauty' to 'Spirit'. Wordsworth's opening panorama of the Wye valley is written, like the Guide to the Lakes , with clear instructions of how to take in the scene. This lesson in landscape perception (including many aspects of the Picturesque) was one of the recitations Wordsworth used most often to entertain his American visitors as he showed them around Rydal's extensive gardens. In the poem, he portrays the use of nature as commodity in the subtle image of 'wreaths of smoke / Sent up, in silence, from among the trees'. The speaker moves from commodity very deftly and unobtrusively into viewing aspects of the landscape as 'forms of beauty'. Emerson too provides his own description of Nature which, from necessity of perspective, lends itself to the beautiful and symmetrical:

The ancient Greeks called the world kósmos, beauty. Such is the constitution of all things, or such the plastic power of the human eye, that the primary forms, as the sky, the mountain, the tree, the animal, give us a delight in and for themselves ; a pleasure arising from outline, color, motion, and grouping. [55]

The similarities to Wordsworth's passage are striking:

...The sounding cataract

Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,

The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,

Their colours and their forms were then to me

An appetite; a feeling and a love,

That had no need of a remoter charm,

By thought supplied, or any interest

Unborrowed from the eye.

ll. 77-84

By using the first person plural as opposed to Wordsworth's singular, Emerson universalises such divine inspiration/perception and puts it within the grasp of all. He creates a universal poetic suffrage which gives everyone the chance for self-government. Two years after the publication of Nature he would proclaim to the graduates of Harvard Divinity School that each was capable of reaching the heights Christ reached. Emerson's portrayal of the divinity unique to humankind completes Wordsworth's 'Tintern Abbey' which does not fully illustrate a distinction between the presence of the impelling motion in all 'thinking things' and 'all objects of thought'. Wordsworth does of course bring this thought to fruition in The Prelude when he concludes that the mind is of 'fabric more divine' than the natural world, however by the time this long poem was published in America, the public, via Nature , had already been exposed to its conclusions. [56]

24

The substance of the inner and outer worlds was a concern of both writers. Wordsworth's awareness of the presence in Nature is a certainty reached via communion with his own soul and that of the natural world. As would follow, Nature also contains its own narrative of beatific ecstasy:

Standing on the bare ground,-my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space,-all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God. ...I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. ...Yet it is certain that the power to produce this delight does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a harmony of both. [57]

He begins personally and ends universally and once again expands Wordsworth using his terms, but this is more than tessera . The shared text of the two works does not seem a simple case of Wordsworth's words seeping out of Emerson's pen while Emerson's mind is unaware of and/or in reaction to them. It seems a purposeful evocation of a middle ground between the two authors and between their terms where a transubstantiation takes place. Emerson is writing for readers who he knows are familiar with Wordsworth. He is purposely reaching the same point to show a unity in textual truth which corresponds to a unity in natural truth: the presence of God in divine and human creation.

25

Emerson shows us that influence manifests itself in all aspects of text creation and not just composition. The appearance of the 1836 Nature in a similar binding to Wordsworth's 1835 Yarrow Revisited is of enormous importance. The material form of the 1836 Nature is the first symptom that leads us to believe Emerson is suffering from a case of bibliographical-tessera . Nature is published by the same publisher as Wordsworth's Yarrow Revisited which was issued only a year earlier. When this data is considered alongside the fact that the publication makes no mention of the name of its author, we see just how subtle a synechdoche Emerson's first book was. As would be expected reviewers identified the work with the musings of Wordsworth; in fact, the review of Nature in the Western Messenger opens with a quote from 'Tintern Abbey'. Emerson cleverly continues his play on form matching the content by having Nature appear in cloth bindings (produced by the binder of Yarrow Revisited) that are not only in natural colours but also have blind stamped patterns that resemble aspects of the natural world. It is crucial to add that the American edition of Yarrow Revisited which Emerson owned was light green and had vein-like patterns impressed on it so that it resembled the look and colour of a leaf. These bindings have a textual source in 'The Brothers', in particular the line which refers to 'God who made the great book of the world'. [58] Emerson who is a master of making other's thoughts appear in several different disguises throughout his work, provides an explanatory reading of Wordsworth's image:

A life in harmony with Nature, the love of truth and of virtue, will purge the eyes to understand her text. By degrees we may come to know the primitive sense of the permanent objects of nature, so that the world shall be to us an open book, and every form significant of its hidden life and final cause. [59]

* * * * * *

26

In order to trace other literary cross-relations similar to those between the Ballads and Nature , I think it is necessary to examine their nascent stages such as the American 'Ballad' which is the first example of Wordsworth's influence. This work clearly affected all genres of American writing from ballads to prose to parodies. The Port Folio contains Oldschool's praises and reprints of the poems. Not only do Rose's parodies precede public parodies of the Ballads in England by some five odd years, they are also among the most insightful criticisms of the work. These burlesques enhance the study of the reception of Wordsworth in America as well as in England insofar as they criticise different aspects of the poet than those published in his native land. The fact that the book of Rose's parodies only contains lampoons of well established poets (such as Shakespeare) is a testimony that, by 1804, Wordsworth had achieved enough acclaim to be at the centre of literary circles in America. This hastiness to praise and parody differs greatly from the reception of the poet in England. Marked differences such as these should merit more scholarly attention.

27

The major influence of the Ballads on American literature was belated in comparison to England. The impression of the work might not have been as deep and lasting had it not been accented by its own persona of Wordsworth. Oldschool's assessments anticipated the tenor of American criticism which was to take shape so many years later. Ultimately it was the sonnets which seized popularity for Wordsworth in Britain as even strongholds of opposition like the Edinburgh Review were forced to attest to their merit. In America, Wordsworth was the poet of the Ballads as well as the prophet of Nature. Even though Emerson had seemed unimpressed with the man he met in 1833, there is no mistaking what he always thought about the poet whose works he initially thirsted to abuse. After this visit to Wordsworth when Emerson had again reached his native Massachusetts, he reflected on the Lake-poet in retreat and in a reaction to his reaction he saw a role model for his own solitary life:

By going much^ alone a man will get more of^ a noble courage in thought & word than from all the wisdom that is in books. ...He will come to hear God speak as audibly through his own lips as ever [h] He did by the mouth of Moses or Isaiah or Milton. "For nature never did betray the heart that loved her." Such revelations as were made to George Fox or Emanuel Swedenborg are only made in the woods... [60]

Throughout the rest of that year, and the rest of his life, he continued to quote the Wordsworth who was one of his initial inspirations, the Wordsworth of the Ballads . Wordsworth lies hidden in the centre of Emerson's statement. Although he is unnamed, he is the only one quoted. The connection of the poet to Fox hearkens back to that made by many of his readers in early-Philadelphia, and the emphasis placed on the gospel according to Nature casts a forward glance to theories that would be reiterated not only in Nature , but also many years later in Henry David Thoreau's essay Walking.


 

Notes

[1]

Thanks are owed to Jonathan Wordsworth for making me aware of this fact, and allowing me to examine his copies. The edition of Joan of Arc does not acknowledge Coleridge's input either.

[2]

This comment is written by Oliver Oldschool for the Port Folio , III, no. 27 (Saturday, 2 July 1803), 210.

[3]

Emerson recounts his visit in English Traits (Boston, 1856), chapter I. An account of Channing's visit is given in John Beer, 'William Ellery Channing visits the Lake Poets', Review of English Studies , XLII, no. 66 (May 1991), 212-26.

[4]

See the circulation records of these two libraries.

[5]

DC MS A/Peabody/4, February 1838. With thanks to Jeff Cowton, Robert Woof and the staff of the Wordsworth Library, Grasmere for all their help and permission for publication.

[6]

See Leon Howard, 'Wordsworth in America' Modern Language Notes , 48 (1933) 359-65, and Lewis Leary 'Wordsworth in America: Addenda' Modern Language Notes , 58 (1943) 391-93.

[7]

British Critic (1801), 125-131; and Port Folio (1801), 188-9.

[8]

Port Folio (1801), 188. All references to the Port Folio are to the copies in the Cornell Wordsworth Collection, Karl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University. I would like to thank C. J. Lance-Dubosque for permission to publish quotations from the Port Folio. I would also like to express my grattitude to Mark Dimunation and his gracious staff at the Kroch Library for all their assistance with my research in the Wordsworth Collection.

[9]

Ibid, 189.

[10]

Preface to Port Folio (1801).

[11]

'Simon Lee' is reprinted in: Port Folio (1801), 24.

[12]

Port Folio III, no. 36 (Saturday, 1 October 1803), 288.

[13]

The variant punctuation is taken from the Port Folio 's reprint.

[14]

Preface to Port Folio (1801).

[15]

Review of Lyrical Ballads . British Critic , XIV (October 1799), 365.

[16]

Port Folio, II (1802), 62.

[17]

Relf's PhiladelphiaGazette and Daily Advertiser (Monday, 16 January 1802).

[18]

Port Folio , I, no. 24 (Saturday, 13 June 1801), 184.

[19]

Advertisement to 1798 Lyrical Ballads , iv.

[20]

Ibid, ii.

[21]

ll. 7-8.

[22]

For examples of elegiac ballads see 'Bonnie Annie' and 'The Cruel Mother' as printed in: Arthur Quiller Couch. The Oxford Book of Ballads . (Oxford, [later edition] 1941), 98-100, 102-03.

[23]

In his Advertisement, Humphreys notes that the 1800 edition was published in the summer of 1801. Even though the English edition was published in January of 1801, Humphreys' statement provides evidence that it had reached America by this time. Oldschool publishes the review of the 1800 edition on 13 June 1801 as well.

[24]

Edinburgh Review (1802), 73.

[25]

Port Folio (1801), 191.

[26]

Ibid.

[27]

The two parodies by Robert H. Rose are: 'A Lyrical Ballad', Port Folio, IV, no. 33 (Saturday, 13 August 1804), 257-8; and 'A humble Imitation of some Stanzas written by W. Wordsworth, in Germany, on one of the coldest days of the century.' Port Folio , IV, no. 43 (Saturday, 27 October 1804), 242-3; his book is: Sketches in Verse (Philadelphia, 1810).

[28]

Lord Byron, English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers ; a Satire, 4th ed. (London, 1810); The parody 'Peter Bell' is by John Hamilton Reynolds (1819); for a reprint of 'The Nose Drop' see The Wordsworth Circle, II (1971), 91-100.

[29]

'A Lyrical Ballad', 257.

[30]

Lyrical Ballads (1798), i.

[31]

Ibid, iii.

[32]

Reynolds. 'Peter Bell' (1819).

[33]

Graeme Stones, 'The "Vile Art" of Romantic Parody" The Wordsworth Circle, XXVII, no. 2 (Spring 1996), 91. Currently Graeme Stones and John Strachan are compiling and editing a collection of Romantic parodies in which the full texts these as well as many other American burlesques will be made available (for the first time) to the public. The collection is to be published by Pickering & Chatto in 1999.

[34]

'Written in Germany on one of the Coldest Days of the Century' Port Folio (1804), 242.

[35]

Rose (1810), 72.

[36]

My Molly and I we sat down by the fire,

And she was preparing the vittle;

And as I was hungry, I had a desire

To ask her a question, and so I drew nigher,

And ask'd, had she put on the kettle.

The table was set, and the cups they were laid,

But Molly mov'd slower and slower;

At breakfast her speech was cutting and rough,

At dinner, Heaven knows, it was crabbed enough,

But now it is fifty times more.

So, I thought I might hasten the supper perhaps,

If the fire a little I'd move;

For, said I, if I wait for this treacherous heat,

I fear 'twill be long ere my supper I eat,

So I put some more wood in the stove.

Alas! for the man that has married a shrew!

What perils his safety environ!

I scarcely had put on the stick, before Moll

Raps me over the head with the tongs-to the wall

I reel'd; for the tongs were of iron.

Stock still then I stood, like a traveller bemaz'd,

The weight of her hand I'd oft tried,

But never the tongs: could I have got forth,

To the east and the west, and the south and the north

I'd have fled, without guide post or guide.

See! my spindles sink under me, foot, leg, and thigh,

My eyesight and hearing are lost;

Between life and death my blood freezes and thaws,

I thought I was dead; or at least, by the laws,

I thought I should give up the ghost.

No table or chair was there near me, but I

At length just got hold of a poker,

And then to escape did I boldly presume,

I brandish'd my poker, and out of the room

I flew, for my Moll was no joker.

Yet, Heaven be my witness, if Molly should die,

How firmly her loss I'd sustain;

Though women their favours should offer in crowds,

As well might they spend all their breath on the clouds,

I ne'er would be wedded again.

R. Shallow [Robert H. Rose]

A fig for your languages, German and Norse,

Let me have the song of the Kettle,

And the tongs and the poker, instead of that horse

That gallops away with such fury and force

On this dreary dull plate of black metal.

Our earth is no doubt made of excellent stuff,

But her pulses beat slower and slower,

The weather in Forty was cutting and rough,

And then, as Heaven knows, the glass stood low enough,

And now it is four degrees lower.

Here's a Fly, a disconsolate creature, perhaps

A child of the field, or the grove,

And sorrow for him! This dull treacherous heat

Has seduc'd the poor fool from his winter retreat,

And he creeps to the edge of my stove.

Alas! how he fumbles about the domains

Which this comfortless oven environ,

He cannot find out in what track he must crawl,

Now back to the tiles, and now back to the wall,

And now on the brink of the iron.

Stock-still there he stands like a traveller bemaz'd,

The best of his skill he has tried;

His feelers methinks I can see him put forth

To the East and the West, and the South and the North,

But he finds neither guide-post nor guide.

See! His spindles sink under him, foot, leg and thigh,

His eyesight and hearing are lost,

Between life and death his blood freezes and thaws,

And his two pretty pinions of blue dusky gauze

Are glued to his sides by the frost.

No Brother, no Friend has he near him, while I

Can draw warmth from the cheek of my Love,

As best and as glad in this desolate gloom,

As if green summer grass were the floor of my room,

And woodbines were hanging above.

Yet, God is my witness, thou small helpless Thing,

Thy life I would gladly sustain

Til summer comes up from the South, and with crowds

Of thy brethren a march thou should'st sound through the clouds,

And back to the forests again.

W. Wordsworth

[37]

'Strange Fits of Passion I Have Known', ll. 25-28.

[38]

See the following articles to which I am thoroughly indebted: Alan G. Hill, 'Wordsworth and his American Friends' Bulletin of Research in the Humanities, 81, no. 2 (Summer 1978), 146-60; and Mark Reed. 'Contacts with America', William Wordsworth 1770-1970 , ed. Nesta Clutterbuck. (Grasmere, 1970), 32-6.

[39]

Ralph Waldo Emerson , ed. Richard Poirier (Oxford, 1990), 3.

[40]

The Prose Works of William Wordsworth , ed. W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser (Oxford, 1974), ii. 124.

[41]

Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson , ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston, 1957), 78. (The American Scholar )

[42]

See The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson , ed. George Clark, Merrell Davis, Alfred Ferguson and William Gilman, 2nd edition (Cambridge (MA), [1960] 1968), i. 162.

[43]

See the MS marginalia in Emerson's copy of Poetical Works of William Wordsworth (Boston, 1824), reproduced here by permission of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association and of Houghton Library, Harvard University [call number: *AC85 Em 345.ZY824]. I would like to thank the Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association and Leslie A. Morris, curator of manuscripts, for permission to publish a marginal comment of Ralph Waldo Emerson on the 'Intimations Ode'. I also extend my thanks to the fine staff of the Houghton Library.

[44]

See Harold Bloom, Anxiety of Influence . (Oxford, [1973] 1997), 50.

[45]

See Journals , ed. Merrel Davis, Alfred Ferguson and William Gilman (Cambridge, 1961), ii. 380-81.

[46]

Poetical Works (Boston, 1824), iii. 223. (Emerson's copy in Houghton Library, Harvard, University) with thanks to Professor Bruce Graver for his help in deciphering the text of the note.

[47]

John Brookes Moore, 'Emerson on Wordsworth' PMLA ,41 (1926), 185.

[48]

DC MS A/Peabody/4.

[49]

See English Traits (1856), Chapter I.

[50]

Parnassus , ed. Ralph Waldo Emerson (Boston and New York, 1874), Preface, iv.

[51]

See Annabel Newton, Wordsworth in Early American Criticism . (Chicago, 1928) in which she does not treat any pre-1824 criticism of the poet.

[52]

DC MS A/Peabody/3, letter from her to Wordsworth 7 September 1835.

[53]

See the American editor's introduction to the 1833 reprint of Hazlitt's Spirit of the Age as a 'Sketch of the genius and Character of William Wordsworth, with Selections from his Lyrical Ballads ' Greenbank's Periodical Library , II (1833), 182.

[54]

See Chapter I of English Traits (1856) as well as Journal , ed. Alfred Ferguson (Cambridge, 1964), iv. 78-9. (Emerson's journal entry made in Liverpool on 1 September 1833).

[55]

Whicher (1957), 26.

[56]

See Perry Miller, 'International Romanticism', Walden and Civil Disobedience , ed. Owen Thomas (New York, 1966), 392.

[57]

Whicher (1987), 24.

[58]

L. 270.

[59]

Whicher (1987), 36.

[60]

Journals (1964), iv. 92 (entry of 21 October 1833).

Auteur : Joel Pace
Titre : 'Gems of a soft and permanent lustre': The Reception and Influence of the Lyrical Ballads in America
Revue : Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 9, février 1998
URI : http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/005782ar
DOI : 10.7202/005782ar

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