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Duncan Wu, Wordsworth's Reading 1800-1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN: 0 521 49674 8 (hardback). Price: £40.00 (US $59.95)[Record]

  • Eric Walker

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  • Eric Walker
    Florida State University

Mindful of the DonJuan narrator's injunction that "Good workmen never quarrel with their tools," I have in the main little other than praise for the second volume of Duncan Wu's fine project to survey in exacting detail William Wordsworth's reading. Wordsworth's writing and now reading life continue to be extraordinarily well-served by the instruments, large and small, of scholarship: the Clarendon Press Letters (finished in 1988 and already followed by a 1993 Supplement volume, whereas the Coleridge letters rest unattended in book form since 1971), the Cornell Wordsworth volumes, the Owen and Smyser ProseWorks , Mark Reed's chronologies, the Shaver library catalogue, a linked series of bibliographic guides (Bauer, Logan, Stam, Kroeber and Jones), the venerable Lane Cooper concordance, Jared Curtis's 1993 edition of the Fenwick notes—all of these and more now available as print volumes even as schemes move forward for various electronic archives and utensils. Wu's two volumes assume on the reference shelf a more rigorous place beside what remains a useful ancestor, Markham Peacock's 1950 assembly of TheCriticalOpinionsofWilliamWordsworth ; the Cambridge University Press is to be commended for continuing to devote resources to this essential branch of scholarship while it also offers at the front of its Romantics list the volumes of the Cambridge Studies in Romanticism series. The useful traffic between these two types of projects may be simply illustrated: students alert to the work to theorize gender and romantic writing can now locate in Wu's volumes the precise evidence (through 1815) of the extent of Wordsworth's engagement with the writing of, simply among contemporaries, Aikin, Baillie, Barbauld, Edgeworth, Lamb, Lickbarrow, More, Opie, Robinson, Seward, Smith (Elizabeth), Smith (Charlotte), Williams, Wollstonecraft, and others. The volumes not only document discrete events in their alphabetic march (in this volume, from a pseudonymous author named "A" to "Edward Young"; Wordsworth appears never to have read—through 1815—an author or book whose name or title begins with Z, a fact hitherto invisible) but also yield a cumulative significance in many larger categories of reading, such as the Greek and Roman classics, medieval and renaissance writing, continental writing, periodical publishing, journalism, and the contemporary novel. I find most fascinating Wu's indefatigable work to reconstruct the culture of libraries known to Wordsworth—private, semi-private, institutional—in late 18th and early 19th century Britain, a rich body of generally untapped evidence the freshness of which demonstrates the necessary continuity between the kind of work that underwrites what the profession used to call philology and what it now prefers to honor as cultural studies. As these volumes document Wordsworth's immersion in many different areas of writing, publishing, book collection, and book circulation, to my mind the oddest category of reading that Wu has set himself the task to track is what the latter-day caricaturists of Wordsworth the egotist might maliciously predict would be the only category of a book titled Wordsworth'sReading : Wu dutifully documents when possible Wordsworth's reading of his own works, a task the impossible fullness of which might be considered roughly analogous to trying to infer from a few known visits how often Michelangelo slipped back in the Sistine Chapel and looked up. That some information is more useful than other bits in no way diminishes, however, the bedrock principle that I would here uphold, and that Wu's volumes superbly illustrate: the more information, the better—so let's have that curious record of when Wordsworth read himself (when didn't he?) and let students make of it what they will. A rigorous evaluation of Wu's methods in shaping his often hard-won information is already available in Bruce Graver's …