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).[Notice]

  • Bruce Graver

…plus d’informations

  • Bruce Graver
    Providence College

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. 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 …