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William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads 1800. With an Introduction by Jonathan Wordsworth. Banbury: Woodstock Books, 1997. 2 volumes bound as one. ISBN: 1-85477-200-7. Price: £48.00 (US$85.00).

  • Bruce Graver

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  • Bruce Graver
    Providence College

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Lyrical Ballads 1800 is a welcome addition to Jonathan Wordsworth's distinguished facsimile reprint series, Revolution & Romanticism, 1789-1834. Both volumes of Lyrical Ballads are reprinted, conveniently bound as one (a common nineteenth-century practice, as well as a cost-saving measure), and, as usual, Jonathan Wordsworth has written a brief (and, for the series, somewhat contentious) introduction to the whole. The quality of the photographic reproductions is reasonably good, although the original copy used for volume 2 seems to have been tightly bound, and as a result the reprinted text looks a bit squeezed along the inner margins of the recto pages. A more serious problem is the omission of page 126 of volume 2, containing the last four stanzas of "The Two April Mornings." Surely, in an $85 book, this is a mistake that someone could have noticed and corrected. But, even with yet another "infamous Blunder of the Printer," Lyrical Ballads 1800 is a valuable facsimile, which ought to save wear and tear on the increasingly fragile originals, and will allow us to study the publication as a whole, at our leisure and in our homes, and (which is more important) in our classrooms.

Jonathan Wordsworth's introductory essay has two aims: first, to characterize the new poems in volume two of Lyrical Ballads, and, second, to give his own account of the relations between Wordsworth and Coleridge as the new edition was being prepared. It is the second of these that is the most interesting and controversial. He addresses three crucial matters: the writing of the "Preface," the demotion of "The Ancient Mariner" to the penultimate place in volume 1 (and the note about its "defects"), and the decision not to include "Christabel" in volume 2. In each case, he defends Wordsworth's actions, basing his arguments on correspondence, journal and notebook entries, and the manuscripts of the poems. His main point is that the decisions about Lyrical Ballads 1800 were in every case collaborative, many were determined, in large part, by negative reviews of the 1798 volume, and thus they do not represent, as several have claimed, a systematic attempt on Wordsworth's part to demean his friend's achievements. Now detractors will maintain that the Chairman of the Wordsworth Trust may have a vested interest here, but they should also note that he makes his case with an even-handedness that is rare in scholarly discussions of these matters: no blame is meted out, and no aspersions are cast. Read together with James Butler and Karen Green's Cornell Wordsworth edition of Lyrical Ballads (Ithaca, 1992), the introduction serves as a corrective to what has become a critical commonplace about the literary relations of Wordsworth and Coleridge.

The introduction does not, however, address another important issue: the bibliographical complexity of the 1800 edition. The Wordsworths and Coleridge began preparing the printer's manuscripts for volume 2 in Grasmere before all the poems had been completed; they sent them in a series of letters, spread out over several months, to Biggs and Cottle in Bristol to be printed; in the meantime, Coleridge prevailed upon Humphry Davy to read proof and generally oversee the printing process, a job for which Davy had no particular qualifications. As the printer's manuscripts were prepared, revisions were made, sometimes included in the same letter and sometimes inserted in later ones; the order of the poems was changed; and "Christabel," of course, was dropped from the volume after much of the type had already been set, including references to the poem in the "Preface." Given this sequence of events, it is not surprising that the beleaguered printer made many mistakes. A few were corrected in the printing process but were bound with the volumes anyway, three were corrected on an errata leaf, and many were not caught at all, the most serious of which was the omission of fifteen lines of "Michael." The error in "Michael" (the "infamous Blunder of the Printer," as Coleridge put it) was so serious that Wordsworth demanded correction, and consequently Biggs prepared three cancel leaves containing the omitted lines, and a new 27-item errata leaf, which were bound into a few of the volumes at the end of the print run. As a result of this convoluted process, many copies of Lyrical Ballads 1800 contain odd variant readings, some of them significantly affecting our understanding of the poetry. Thus any facsimile of this edition ought to be accompanied by a bibliographical description, informing students and scholars what peculiarities it happens to contain. It is unfortunate that Jonathan Wordsworth did not supply us with this information.

But I will.

  • In volume one, leaf a3 (the first page of the "Preface") is in the cancelled state, that is, it omits the reference to "Christabel" on page vi. The "Preface" itself begins "The First Volume" (instead of "first," as in some copies and the printer's manuscripts), and line 13 on page vi reads "FOSTER-MOTHER's TALE, the NIGHTINGALE, the".

  • Also in volume one, leaf I5 (page 137, the last page of "The Idiot Boy") is in the uncorrected state. That is, line 455 of the poem reads "he had becn" (for "been") and line 459 reads "I give te you" (for "to"). In the copy from which the facsimile was made, the latter of these errors has been corrected in pen.

  • On the verso of leaf N2 (page 196), line 567 of "The Ancient Mariner" reads "That agency returns". In his catalogue of The Cornell Wordsworth Collection (Ithaca, 1957), George Healey maintained that some copies have been corrected to "agony," but I have never seen one, and no such variant is listed by Butler and Green in their Cornell edition. It is worth noting that, in the printer's manuscripts, "agony" (in Coleridge's hand) could very easily be read as "agency."

  • In volume two, leaf D8 (page 64), the first line of "Lucy Gray" reads "Oft I had" (instead of "Oft had I"), and line six reads "wild Moor," instead of "wide". These errors can be found in several copies of the collection, but most contain the correct readings of both lines.

  • In volume two, leaf F6 (page 92), the second line of "The Two Thieves" reads: "And the skill which He learn'd on the Banks of the Tyne." Some copies and the printer's manuscripts have "he".

  • Leaves O1-2 of volume 2 (pages 209-212, containing lines of "Michael") are in the uncancelled state. On p. 209, "dialect" is set with the "ct" ligature, and in the footnote "shearing" is centered on the page. On p. 210, line 201 ends with a period, lines 202-216 are omitted. Line 235, which in the cancels begins page 212, here appears at the bottom of page 211.

  • Finally, leaf P2 of volume 2 is in the uncancelled state: this leaf contains the notes to "Michael" and a three-item errata list.

Taken together, these characteristics suggest that the copy here reproduced was probably made early in the print run, after "Christabel" had been dropped, but before the printer caught and corrected the errors in "The Idiot Boy" and "Lucy Gray," and well before Wordsworth demanded a cancel for "Michael." This is in fact a relatively rare state of volume 2, one that allows us to see important details of the printing process.

There are also a number of "phantom" variants in the facsimile, caused by problems with photographic reproduction. Sometimes, a faintly-printed hyphen does not appear at all in the facsimile. Sometimes, a faint comma loses its tail altogether and appears as a period. Sometimes, a previous owner has made an ink correction neatly enough to appear like a printed character, and in the facsimile it is difficult to tell that it is in fact a correction. These "variants" never present serious problems, since they mainly have to do with punctuation. But they do serve as reminders of the limitations of facsimile editions.

In the most recent issue of The Wordsworth Circle, Diane Long Hoeveler remarks that the Revolution and Romanticism series is "so undervalued in this country [the USA] that [it] is perhaps better known to acquisition librarians than to scholars of Romanticism." (TWC 28, 4: 260) If her assertion is accurate, it is a shame, for Jonathan Wordsworth has put together what is arguably the most important contribution to Romantic pedagogy of the last decade. I have myself ordered almost the entire series for the library of my small undergraduate institution, and as a result my students have access to Mary Robinson's Lyrical Tales, Joanna Baillie's A Series of Plays, Erasmus Darwin's The Loves of the Plants, Lyrical Ballads 1800, and over a hundred other scarce texts, when students at nearby institutions do not. I simply could not teach the way I do without this series. So I am grateful to Jonathan Wordsworth for his efforts, and look forward to future additions to Revolution and Romanticism. May the bright work continue to grow.