'Visionary Voices'Jonathan Wordsworth, Ancestral Voices: Fifty Books from the Romantic Period. Poole and New York: Woodstock, 1996. ISBN: 1 85477 213 9 (paperback). Price: £14.95.Jonathan Wordsworth, Visionary Gleam: Forty Books from the Romantic Period. Poole and New York: Woodstock, 1996. ISBN: 1 85477 214 7 (paperback). Price: £14.95.[Notice]

  • Mark Sandy

…plus d’informations

  • Mark Sandy
    University of Durham

These two companion volumes focus on books written in what modern readers now regard as the Romantic period. The Modern reader is rightly reminded by Jonathan Wordsworth that the 'word or concept' Romantic was unknown to those contemporary with this historical era. Literary history, preferring to deal with authors and movements rather than 'individual books', irons out both these kinds of contemporary anomalies and trends. So Jonathan Wordsworth's project sets out '[t]o see a period in terms of its books...[and] become aware of trends, values, achievements, inter-connections and disparities, that are normally obscured'. In these two volumes each book from the Romantic period is treated as 'having its own integrity and special qualities' that are 'present from the first', instead of 'those emphasized or detected by succeeding generations'. So not all of the books included within these volumes are considered '[r]omantic in any sense of the word', but are included because they contribute to 'a fuller sense of awareness of the age as it was'. Wordsworth writes absorbing and scholarly essays about each of the books he has selected, handling deftly and intelligently the diversity of the material he has at his fingertips. Many of the essays, often those on the more obscured literary figures of the period, contribute to our understanding of the criss-crossing currents of the contemporary social, political and artistic scene, which influenced the composition of works such as the Lyrical Ballads of Coleridge and Wordsworth and Keats's 1820 volume of poetry, now regarded as canonical Romantic texts. In Visionary Gleam , Wordsworth's essay on Mary Tighe's Psyche with Other Poems 1811 (1805) both draws to our critical attention an accomplished female poet—who wrote 'elegant and cogent spenserian narrative'—and highlights points of creative influence that her own poetry had on Keats's 1820 volume. Mary Tighe's reputation as a poet has not been enhanced, Wordsworth points out, by her being 'known only as a disputed influence on Keats'. In a letter of Christmas 1818, Keats places Tighe 'among poets whom he has grown out of'. In spite of Keats's declaration he was soon after to adopt spenserian stanzas for his narrative romance, The Eve of St. Agnes , and to write his own ode To Psyche . Wordsworth is keen to remind us that it is unlikely Keats composed the 'first of his great Odes...without her [Tighe] coming to mind'. Such a claim is strengthened by tracing the similarities between Keats's 'central stanza' in Ode on a Grecian and Tighe's repetition of 'ever' in her description of the 'transparent stream' in Psyche . Mary Tighe's own works are sensitively handled by Wordsworth, who recognises the elegiac tones of 'a poetry of secret grief' in Address to My Harp , The Lily and Written at Scarborough, August 1799 . Wordsworth also acknowledges Tighe as 'a poet of many voices' and that '[w]e are aware at times in her writing of Spenser, Milton, Pope, Gray...[and]...Cowper'. The enthusiasm and sensitivity of Wordsworth's essay does much to convince us that the absence of a Collected Works of Tighe is owing to the short-sightedness of literary scholars and that '[s]uch poetry should not be consigned to dark oblivion'. Essays of equal scholarship, enthusiasm and interest are included in Ancestral Voices . Wordsworth's preface to Joanna Baillie's A Series of Plays ('in which it is attempted to delineate the stronger passions of the mind') contributes much to our understanding of the influences at work on the composition of the Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads , 1798. Where Baillie, in her 'elegantly written' seventy page long 'introductory discourse', writes of 'those works which most strongly characterize …