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why I have chosen subjects from common life, and endeavoured to bring my language near to the real language of men...William Wordsworth, 1800 "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads
Wordsworth's 1800 "Preface" was written at a time when a scientific terminology for language was being formed. Ideas which had originated in Lucretius passed through Locke and Blair to emerge again in the main intellectual current. Etienne Bonnot de Condillac was dominant in this process, but the importance of other thinkers, including William Enfield (1740-97), should not be overlooked. The present essay examines Enfield's importance in the context of language theorists and considers his influence on Wordsworth.
It is well known that Blair's theories about language influenced Wordsworth, indeed Romanticism more generally.  Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres established a canon of expressionism in the context of the antithesis of art and nature. Blair deserves to be evaluated as an inaugurator of Romantic expressionism because he combined the Longinian sublimity with Lucretian idea of language, stressing the importance of impassioned language with the materialistic view on language while not impairing the practical purpose of poetry, that is, of giving pleasure. Moreover, he consolidated the contradictory points of Lucretius and Aristotle in defining the idea of poetry. This more general debt to Blair can be contextualised, and a more specific one to Enfield's celebrated Monthly Magazine article established.
Wordsworth had access to Enfield's article while he was at Alfoxden, and could well have read it while working on Lyrical Ballads. According to Losh's diary entry of 20 March 1797, among the books he sent to Wordsworth on that date was found the name of "Monthly Magazines from February to December 1796 inclusive". Enfield's important article "Is Verse Essential to Poetry" appeared in the July 1796 issue. This article, I would argue, mediates Blair's literary canons and Wordsworth's poetic theory.
To understand the importance of Enfield, we need to consider the main problems of Blair's theories. The development of Romantic aesthetics - with its central concept "that poetry is the expression of feeling, or of the human spirit, or of an impassioned state of mind and imagination" - can be summarised as a movement from an Aristotelian theory of Mimesis toward a Longuinean and Lucretian theory of language as a spontaneous expression of feeling., but in Blair this movement is not always satisfactorily achieved:
In Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, there is a distinct cleavage between those sections that are primitivistic and expressive and those that are conventionally rhetorical and pragmatic in their emphases. The collapse of the neoclassic structure of criticism occurred only when the concept of the urgency and overflow of feeling, from being only a part, and a subordinate part, of poetic theory become the central principle of the whole.ML 84
Differing from Blair's unsuccessful suture of primitivism and sophisticated neoclassic rhetoric, Enfield relied much on the dynamism of innate powers as a dissenter. Even in his literary criticism published under the pseudonym of the Enquirer, Enfield's unique stance is conspicuous enough. He tried to seek and incorporate dynamism into the literary canon. At the beginning of his article in the July issue, Enfield definitely claims that his position is that of a dissenter's no less in the literary world than in the religion:
it may not be thought presumptuous to enquire, whether the spirit of monopoly, which has proved so injurious in ecclesiastical and civil society, has not also found its way into the republic of letters.MM 453
Nevertheless, his stance is close to that of Wordsworth. The "1800 Preface" to Lyrical Ballads as a whole can be estimated as Wordsworth's grand attempt to examine a canon of literary criticism of his age, questioning what is essential to poetry. It is, at the same time, an elaborate defence of his own position as a poet, and of the poems he had written by 1800. Several contradictions or incoherencies are revealed in the argument of the "Preface". But they simply suggest an inner struggle of the poet probing his way out from the regulations of primitive poetry in the ballad form in which intensified emotions were abundantly found. He tried to establish the balance of primitive vigour and sophisticated insight, of public enthusiasm and individual cognisance.
Wordsworth made a self-inquiry: if "the language of a large portion of every good poem" does not differ from "that of a good prose", where can we set the line of demarcation for poetry? This inquiry concerning the identity of poetry led him to make a sincere self-examination of his own mind as a poet. This reflective mood later urged him to adopt a mnemonic theory of poetry. It was his poetic mind that lay at the bottom of all his insights and observations.
The significance of Wordsworth's famous statement which aims at demolishing the barrier between prose and poetry could be explained with reference to Blair's primitivism. Two years later, in his revised "Preface"(1802) to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth tried to equate the feelings of undisguised and uncorrupted nature with those which could only be found among the people living a "[L]ow and rustic life":
...in that condition, our elementary feelings co-exist in a state of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more accurately contemplated and more forcibly communicated ... because in that condition, the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.PLB 125
Those idealised prototype of poets are, in a sense, direct descendants of the early bard in terms of Blair. They are emotionally tied in with primitive men who were prompted and inspired by the objects around them and sung out with vigorous "elementary feelings". In this context of sentimental eulogy of primitivism and passion, Wordsworth's so-called revolutionary statement sounds like a mere repetition of Blair's assertion:
Poetry, however, in its ancient original condition, was perhaps more vigorous than it is in its modern state. It included, then, the whole burst of the human mind; the whole exertion of its imaginative faculties. It spoke then the language of passion, and no other; for to passion it owed its birth. Prompted and inspired by objects which to him seemed great, by events which interested his country or his friends, the early bard arose and sung. He sung indeed in wild and disorderly strains; but they were the native effusion of his heart; they were the ardent conceptions of admiration or resentment, of sorrow or friendship, which he poured forth.B 518
Though the echo is distinct, presumably it is not through Blair but through Enfield that Wordsworth could inherit most of his eulogy to fabricate his own theory of primitive poetry.
As an intellectual bred up in the atmosphere of the Enlightenment, Enfield as a whole was a humane universalist, well aware of the danger of distinguishing poetry from prose only on stylistic or linguistic grounds. It was because, according to Locke and Condillac, the language is the only medium to connect the subjective, private world of the individual with the public one.
Enfield's contribution to the Monthly Review, on the other hand, gave him a profound awareness of the novelty expressed in the form of contemporary poetry, and more surprisingly, in the contemporary novel as well. As a literary critic, he showed a keen sense of discrimination which was shrewd enough to predict the coming of the Romantic movement. For instance, before he became a regular contributor to the Monthly Magazine, he had written a remarkable review on Joanna Baillie in the Monthly Review. In fact, he was the only critic that had noticed the significance of her first collection of poems, Poems 1790. In the review that appeared in the Monthly Review of November 1791, he analysed Baillie's poetry as follows: it was meant for "those readers whose taste is not too refined, or too fastidious, to be pleased with true and lively pictures of nature, sketched with a careless hand." He thus predicted the expansion of literary world to the general public in the Romantic age. The new readers mostly consisted of women at home. Even if they were not intellectually sophisticated, and their sensibility exceeded their power of reasoning, they were the genuine members of this new common market of literature. Enfield did not fail to perceive the superficiality of "easy though peculiar language" of Baillie, but he noticed the significance of the feelings of "undisguised and uncorrupted nature" her poems captured. Needless to say, the latter is one of the aesthetic principles Wordsworth tried to embody in his poems in Lyrical Ballads . It is articulated in its "Preface" as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" or the rejection of "what is usually called poetic diction." (PLB 15 )
Enfield had been well aware of the ever-widening distance between serious literature, that kind of literature Wordsworth and Coleridge intended to create, and popular one fostered by the so-called magazine literature of the 1790s. It was inevitable so long as the Romantic movement and ideology presupposed the political, quantitative equality of the people. Almost militant faith in the possibility of self-reformation in the 1790s brought forth the exploration of the parallels between domestic and political values, private and public morality, but the mainstream of literature was derived from another camp, young intellectuals. As a shrewd literary critic, Enfield seemed to be aware of the paradox of what we now call Romantic ideology, and foresee the coming of several important issues involved with it.
"Is Verse Essential to Poetry?" is one in a series of articles that Enfield published in the Monthly Magazine. In this essay, he tries to mask the 'distinct cleavage' between primitivism and expressionism which Blair had left unresolved. Enfield begins by asking "Whether the exclusive appropriation of the term poetry to verse, has any solid foundation." In his argument, Enfield firmly stands on the side of expressionism as a remote descendant of Lucretius, and at the same time takes a linguistic approach in his speculation. The problem he was especially concerned with was on the classification of poetry and prose. In the age of Pope, the age of Neo-classicism, the line was clearly settled by applying the rules of poetic diction without paying any serious attention to the demands of expressionism.
In his linguistic approach to this subtle problem, it should be noted first that Enfield's affectionate, epistemological idea of language is proximate to that of French contemporary Etienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715-1780). Condillac also held a distinct humanitarian perception of language, asserting that a theory of language is to be explained from a dynamic and egalitarian perspective, although his ideas on the whole had been deeply influenced by Locke. Refusing the deductive view of language, as is evidently proposed by Chomsky, the premise of which is the divine presence of Logos, Condillac's language model is close to the dialectic one proposed by Volosinov. Condillac claims that sociability, reason, and the harmony of gestural expression create a rudimentary epistemological state, and that the creativity of language-making depends on this reciprocal transaction. In a historical perspective, however, Enfield was certainly indebted to Blair:
In the rude state of nature, before the art of verification was known, men felt strong passions and expressed them strongly. Their language would be bold and figurative; it would be vehement and abrupt: sometimes, under the impulse of the gentle and the tender, or the gay and joyous passions, it would flow in a kind of wind and unfettered melody; for under such impressions, melody is natural to man. These first expressions of passion and sentiment would be poetry.MM 454
Enfield's argument thus holds the same premise of language as Blair introduced, that is, a primitive systematisation of integrated whole. The distance between the natural phenomenon of sound and the primitive utterance seemed to be very short both for Blair and for Enfield. In this sense, Enfield can be said to be a faithful disciple of Blair. As he points out, the mediocre verification sometimes deteriorates into the drab monotony of the magazine poetry, the impoverished heir of Neo-classicism. In order to save the situation, Enfield encourages the poet to mingle his poetry with the vigour of primitive artistic impulses expressed in the form of music and dance. Enfield summarises the literary canon of criticism, quoting from Trapp's Lectures on Poetry :
Poetry is the art of imitating or illustrating, in metrical numbers, every being in nature, and every object of the imagination, for the delight and improvement of mankind.MM 453
This is an elaborate restatement of Aristotle's imitation theory, mimesis. From Enfield's viewpoint however, this ancient imitation theory is vulnerable. He attacks the idea of copying which lies at the bottom of imitation from the linguistic point of view. In fact, he begins his essay by attacking the abusive use of the word "imitation:
the term imitation is improperly used to express the description of objects by arbitrary signs, which exhibit no copy of nature.MM 458
He sets forth the use of arbitrary signs as a premise to explain the notion of "imitation", and succeeds to transform the idea of mimesis itself. If the objects are to be copied by employing the uncertain media, language as arbitrary signs, this arbitrarity itself cannot always guarantee the produce of precise copying, because his definition of "imitation" comprehends "all verbal delineation of nature". (MM 458) For Enfield, these arbitrary signs do not necessarily mean the exact copies of the objects themselves so long as hey possess their potential, limitless variables related with thinking mechanism.
Enfield's linguistic approach thus enabled him to transcend Blair's limitations, the unsuccessful suture, due to his loose mixture of mimesis and primitivism. The additional area that Enfield explored is no less influential to Wordsworth and Coleridge than Blair's theory of poetry as an impassioned language. After the denial of word and the object correspondence, admitting that language as arbitrary signs exhibits no copy of nature, he continues: "if the definition be admitted, it must evidently comprehend all verbal delineation of nature, whether in verse or prose". (MM 458) Accordingly, in the context of "imitation" based on arbitrary signs, a prose-comedy or a novel could be evaluated as equal to a tragedy or an epic poem. The perception of arbitrariness of semantic structure lurks behind Enfield's denial of literary genre.
It should be noted here that Enfield's idea of sign-thought relationship is not his original idea. Even Locke had already observed in his An Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690) that "Words ...come to be made use of by Men as the Signs of their Ideas." According to Locke's functional view of language, all the words have direct relationships not to objective things but to ideas only, whether they are common and sensible or have more abstruse signification. Locke's model of semantic structure is a more simplified one, in which the triangle relationship of symbol-thought-referent (object) predominates all. It ignores another triangle relationship of sign-meaning-referent(object). Whether we admit the double standard in the meaning structure or not, undoubtedly language has a conventional nature. Consequently his perception that "the Ideas [Marks] stand for, are their proper and immediate Signification" (L 405) is undeniably true. Locke thus had already prepared the way for semiotics:
Man should find out some external sensible Signs, whereby those invisible / ideas, which his thoughts are made up of, might be known to others.L 405
Enfield's rejection of simple copying function in language ultimately leads him to the repudiation of Blairian idea of natural, emotive language as the only means of poetry. If language could in any manner be restricted to a natural and emotive level, and if it should deny the presence and function of arbitrary signs which correspond directly not to the objects as referent but to the ideas, our capacity of gaining knowledge and thinking mechanism would at once collapse to nothing. Enfield was well aware of the limit of this primary principle of the semantics in contrast to the semiotic function of language. Consequently Enfield' s position became slightly different from Locke's. Enfield proceeds from the mode of conventional language analysis to that of aesthetic perception, of defining poetry as alternatives or as complements of the objects, i.e. the things. Even if the objective things were to be depicted, they could be no copy of nature, because, Enfield insists, language itself is the very means to depict them. His linguistic idea thus flatly denies the Adamic language which is based on a static view of the world as consisting of nomenclature, on the direct correspondence between sign (word) and (referent). It is unfortunate for him that, though he was endowed with keen awareness of the dynamic function of language, he could not admit the subtle, implicit link between the things, i.e. referent, and the words of modification to express them, i.e. sign. But as a whole, his idea is not so different from that of modern linguistics which originated especially from Condillac and partly from Saussure. Enfield's epistemological definition of language - an intellectual tool capable of comprehending "all verbal delineation of nature" - anticipates the contemporary notion of languages as an act of speech. In this context, language is thought not only as the medium of communication but also as signs which can tell and record the shared experience of a community. So long as it is used within this verbal community, particularly that of the writer and the reader, language can be artfully adapted so as to incite emotions in the reader, and, simultaneously, it can represent itself with such distinctness and force. It can imprint a vivid impression upon the reader's fancy.
If examined in this context of language, Wordsworth's idea sounds similar to that of Enfield:
They [i.e. the very language of men] are, indeed, a figure of speech occasionally prompted by passion, and I have made use of them as such; but I have endeavoured utterly reject them as a mechanical device of style, or as a family language which Writers in metre seem to lay claim to by prescription. I have wished to keep my Reader in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded that by so doing I shall interest him.PLB 131
This dynamic idea - that language can be a direct media between the subjective, private world of the individual and the public, external world of Nature so that it can establish "the company of flesh and blood" - can be found not only in Enfield but also in Blair and Condillac. As Owen and Smyser point out, Wordsworth employed the idea of 'personification' in Blairean terms as a means of distinguishing poetry from prose. On personification, Blair said:
One of the greatest pleasure we receive from poetry, is, to find ourselves always in the midst of our fellows; and to see every thing thinking, feeling, and acting, as we ourselves do. This is perhaps the principal charm of this sort of figured style, that it introduces us into society with all nature, and interests us, even in inanimate objects.B 207
The personification allows us to establish an emotional connection between nature and ourselves through the workings of sensibility. Blair continues his appraisal of an impassioned style:
when inanimate objects are introduced, not only as feeling and acting, but as speaking to us, or hearing when we address ourselves to them': it is the style of strong passion only; and, therefore, never to be attempted, unless when the mind is considerably heated and agitated.B 207
To the contrary, Wordsworth flatly states that personification is "an ordinary device to elevate the style" and warns that it blocks the free and creative communion between the poet and the reader. He expects much on the reciprocal co-operation on the reader's side in the language community. Still the fact remains that he was conscious of Blair.
Condillac had already accepted the idea that all knowledge is given through a functional use of signs and words. Since the publication of Essai sur l'origine des connaissances humaines in 1746, he had occupied a commanding position in the intellectual life of Europe. His idea of language is based on the notion that a primary, ideal language can "make the internal without the kind of loss that ends in 'falseness and affectation'". As Wordsworth claims, without resort to "a mechanical device of style", that is, personification or allegory, or a convention of "a family language", the poet can internalise the meaning "in the company of flesh and blood" and share its joy with the reader. It is the very idea Condillac tried to propagate, because he believed that the mind was not passive either in perception or in speech.
Relying much on the authority of the Bible, Condillac posited three things: sociability, reason, and harmony of gestural expression of man which create a rudimentary epistemological state. Man is by nature a social creature, endowed with reason, and all human beings are, by nature, uniformly endowed with the same gestural expression of mental states, such as pain, joy, fright, and surprise. But he also emphasises that reason is the fundamental capacity in the nature of man. There should be sought, therefore, some means of reconciliation between reason and emotion. In Condillac, the unifying aspect of compromise is set equal to some effective means which do not necessarily exclude the concept of 'imitation'. Enfield, and Wordsworth in the "Preface" to the Lyrical Ballads, set this effective means equal to poetic language whatever form it may take.
In other words, Condillac assumed a creativity of language-making. According to him, language does possess the function of shared, mutual communication because it can be an arbitrary sign of the mind, the internal thoughts. It can achieve and handle an active communication among men. In this active transaction, the signs can become both a memory bank and a retrieval system, fulfilling the needs of private thinking and reaching the ends of communication. Since the firm linkage between the signifier and the signified can be replaced by an expression of reason and reflection, language is also controllable in spite of the ever-widening expansion of the repertory of signs and of ratiocinative possibilities. Although reason and reflection constitute the primary nature of man, prior to language, language itself has been man's chief artificial creation. Thus, on the basis of association of ideas, language can become the chief repository open to the poet:
From all the operations we have described results one that, so to speak, crowns the understanding: it is reason ...[which] is nothing but the knowledge of the manner in which we are obliged to rule the operations of the mind.C 1, 33a3
... language is the most palpable example of the connections we form voluntarily…C 1, 29a
Condillac's language centred philosophy states succinctly that language is the most palpable and artificial connections we form voluntarily and is consequently subject to our control. (FLS 155) If so, it even enables us to remove and subvert the solid assumptions of the imitation doctrine. In other words, the inescapable linearity of speech has the power to decompose the initial unitary signs of the language to those of action so that, theoretically, they could perpetually recast themselves into discrete and arbitrary signs of human language. The imitation theory intentionally ignores this dynamic activity of the mind. Enfield accepted this linguistic view based on dynamism and referred to it even in his literary criticism.
Condillac's theory, which deliberately discriminates the voluntary and the involuntary connection of ideas, was introduced in England in the eighteenth century, and was enthusiastically supported by Joseph Priestley and his colleagues at his famous dissenters' school, Warrington Academy. As Aarsleff points out, Condillac's idea of language as means of social communication was easily acceptable by the dissenters who firmly believed in the progress of the society for the better. (A 207) The progress of knowledge depends on the development of man's capacity for reflection, while that capacity itself is aided by man's greatest artificial accomplishments, speech and language. Making most of voluntarily created arbitrary signs, language provides a palpable structure to reality, makes past knowledge retrievable, and allows the combination of ideas on a new, deliberate pattern. In essence, the language and the progress of mind reflect all the functions of society.
Priestley tried to develop and apply Condillac's idea of language as a sign of community in the political context. In A Course of Lectures on the Theory of Language, and Universal Grammar (1762), he pointed out that
... in a country where all that spoke the language had one head, all writers, ambitious to draw the attention of the leading men in the state, would studiously throw aside the particular forms of speaking they might happen to have been brought up in, and conform to that of their superiors.CLT 137
Grounded on his observation that "the purposes of a language" are "for the mutual communication of such beings as we are" (CLT 6), Priestley noticed the fact that language could not hold its integrity and purity unless it is used in "independent cities or states" which had "no very free communication with one another". (CLT 135) In other words, the political ideology of a community has a tendency to imitate the language of the established power which is remarkably seen in the written language. Its implication is that the written language shows distinctive signs of political sophistication and uniformity, while dialects provide the communal, private means of communication.
Enfield was working as one of the tutors at Warrington Academy until its close in 1783. Accordingly, it would be natural to understand that Enfield's interest had been centred on the written language and that a partiality for Condillac's ideas had been detected in his argument. They appeared in Wordsworth's "1800 Preface": behind Wordsworth's notion of the poet as a representative of common men, one can see an echo of Enfield's theory. Wordsworth gave a definition of the poet as one of the crowd, as
a man speaking to men: a man...endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind"PLB 138-9
Wordsworth's political egalitarianism was not his own invention. It originated in Quintilian. (OS 176) Nevertheless, it could be interpreted as a sort of his credo as a sympathiser of the Gironde. Following the radical idea of Priestley, which passed through Enfield, what Wordsworth wanted to achieve in Lyrical Ballads, I would argue, was to demolish the privileged language of the established class.
Blair features as a fundamental source of Enfield's argument with regards poetics. Enfield cites Blair's Lectures as the source of his impassioned theory of poetry:
This appears to have been the idea entertained of Poetry by Plato, and to have furnished the chief ground of his exclusion of poets from his republic. Cicero formed the same idea of poetry and said that while all other accomplishments must be acquired by instruction and precept, the poet derives sufficient resources from himself, from the native vigor of his mind, and a certain divine impulse. This notion is adopted among the modems by Dr. Blair.MM 454
Having thus undermined the mimesis theory of Aristotle, the mentor he returns to is Plato, with his evaluation of a frenzied divine madness as the source of poetic inspiration. This concise as well as appropriate summary of Blair's theory of poetic passion fitting it into the context of Plato's divine frenzy would have been persuasive enough to stimulate the young poets of the turbulent age. Even if Enfield's article had been the only substantial source for both Wordsworth's and Coleridge's knowledge about Blair, it served well to incite Wordsworth's awareness as a poet. However, their way of accepting Enfield show a considerable difference.
On several points, Enfield holds more concrete views than Blair concerning the poetic passion. In places, Enfield's discussion plays a sort of prelude to the 1800 "Preface" of Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth's borrowings from Enfield occur, however, mostly in the region where he stepped beyond the limits of Blair's aesthetics. For one thing, Enfield evaluates the importance of 'memory' and 'the power of association' in the creative process, which predicts the coming of Wordsworth's mnemonic theory. By the combined help of these two, the poet can give birth to imaginary beings, to transfer the powers of one being to another, to people any part of the universe with new forms, to call up spectres from the infernal deep, to bring down divinities from the celestial regions, and even to bestow personal existence upon abstract ideas; these wonders, fancy can perform:
and the man who possesses, in an uncommon degree, this inventive faculty, has, undoubtedly, the best title to the appellation of poet, according to the original meaning of the term; for he is, in truth, a creator.MM 455
Enfield thus modified the end-oriented definition of poetry, to instruct or to please, and consolidated it into that of imagination. This new canon diminishes the difference of poetry and prose into a matter of degree. His conclusion sounds like a sort of revision of Blair's distinction of verse and prose, but he still keeps the traditional, pleasure giving principle, 'to amuse', as the poet's duty. It was Johnson who insisted as follows:
The true poet enables you to feel what you remember to have left before, and to feel it with a great increase of sensibility: you recognize a familiar image, but meet it again amplified and expanded, embellished with beauty, and enlarged with majesty.MM 454
Johnson thus enlarged the traditional territory of poetry itself. There should be a time lag "to meet it again", that is, between the sensation and the expression. By reading poetry, the reader can enhance the remote memory of beauty, or the sensations he must have felt in the past. This pleasure could not have been evoked without the mediation of the poet who also seeks the origin of his poetry in memory.
As is evident from his criticism on Johnson's quoted stanza in "Preface", Wordsworth insists in the subconscious of an impassioned state. He argues how "emotion recollected in tranquillity" (PLB 146) is inevitable to create a poetry. The poet is no more a mirror that simply reflects the object in view: he should be in the impassionated state, whereas a similar intensity is required on the reader's side, too. Enfield's criticises Johnson, however, on the ground that his definition of poetry can be easily applicable to the works of fancy and sentiment in prose as well.
This notion of imaginative identity with others, especially with poets, became common in the late 18th century. (OS 177) By applying his sensibility as a useful medium, the reader can feel the intensity of emotion expressed in words. This process is completed by a shared image between the poet and the reader. Although Wordsworth insists that the poet's sensibility is different from an ordinary man 'only in degree', this associative Hartleian image of the poet summoning emotion from memory is somewhat alien to the poet as was imagined by Blair.
Blair's definition of poetry as an impassioned language finds its more distinctive echo in Wordsworth's "Note to The Thorn" (published 1800). Wordsworth admits, though circumstantially, that "The Thorn" represents an experiment of applying Blair's definition of poetry into practice. Concerning the intention of making the narrator of "The Thorn" as he is, Wordsworth says:
It was my intention in this poem to shew the manner in which such men cleave to the same ideas; and to follow the turns of passion, always different, yet not palpably different, by which their conversation is swayed. ... while I adhered to the style in which such persons describe, to take that words, which in their minds are impregnated with passion, should likewise convey passion to Readers who are not accustomed to sympathize with men feeling in that manner or using such language.
To the contrary, without Condillac's idea of "language is the chief repository of the associations open to the poet", Coleridge's beautiful reflection on dream would not have come out in 1796. His passage had preceded the compilation of Lyrical Ballads by one year and a half. On 17 December 1796, Coleridge sent a very long and candid letter to his radical friend and poet, John Thelwall, in which he discussed the necessity of creative reading and the inherent obscurity involved in it:
When you do find out the meaning of my poetry, can you (in general, I mean) after the language so as to make it more perspicuous—-the thought remaining the same?—-By 'dreamy semblance' I did mean semblance of some unknown Past, like to a dream—-and not, "a semblance presented in a 'dream'.—-I mean to express, that oftimes, for a second or two, it flashed upon my mind, that the then company, conversation, & everything, had occurred before, with all the precise circumstances; so as to make Reality appear a Semblance, and the Present like a dream in Sleep. Now this thought is obscure; because few people have experienced the same feeling. Yet several have—-& they were proportionally delighted with the lines as expressing some strange sensations, which they themselves had never ventured to communicate, much less had ever seen developed in poetry.
It is a logical conclusion drawn from the premise that language is the medium, as well as the chief and common repository of association, between the poet and the reader. When objects as they stand are grasped by the mind engaged in a creative, though private action, their nature can be communicated only in such a society in which the words used are understandable to all its members. In order that these words should be communicated adequately, they are to be "submitted to a constant process of 'rectification' in the social intercourse of speech." (A 219) In such society alone, language plays a central role in various ways of perception, of cognition, and of communication. It prepares the potentialities of expression as well. The cognitive activity of the mind is not passive whether it is displayed in perception or in speech. As was beautifully described by Coleridge in his letter to Thelwall, words often begin to lose their reality in this extreme of subjectivism, and consequently they are likely to have "a semblance presented in a dream" in its process of 'rectification'. Coleridge was well aware of this pitiable imperfection or the inherent limits of language as a medium. He also probably learned this idea from Enfield's article.
If language caught in an impassioned state shows such unstability as a medium, where can be found a solid point of reference? In place of the notion of 'semblance', Wordsworth brought out the idea of poet as a translator:
...as it is impossible for the Poet to produce upon all occasions language as exquisitely fitted for the passion as that which the real passion itself suggests, it is proper that he should consider himself as in the situation of a translator, who deems himself justified when he substitutes excellences of another kind for those which are unattainable by him; and endeavors occasionally to surpass his original, in order to make some amends for the general inferiority to which he feels that he must submit.PLB 139
By putting the distance between the impassioned feelings on the scene and the emotion later recollected in his mind, Wordsworth claims that the poet can play the role of translator of these original feelings.
The second point of Enfield's rejection of Blair can be found in his discussion on poetry and prose. Enfield substituted Blair's distinction with an antithesis between rational and emotive language. His point is that 'metaphorical' and 'figurative' prose may be reasonably be called poetry. (OS 173) About a decade later, in the 1811-12 Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton, Coleridge gave a definition of poetry as follows:
Poetry is not the proper antithesis to prose, but to science. Poetry is opposed to science, and prose to metre. The proper and immediate object of science is the acquirement, or communication, of truth; the proper and immediate object of poetry is the communication of immediate pleasure.
This famous definition is repeated at the end of the fourth Lecture of this series, and later developed fully in chapter fourteen of Biographia Literaria. Referring to Wordsworth's similar distinction in the 1800 "Preface", R. A. Foakes suggests this passage "may echo 'Enquirer' (William Enfield) in the Monthly Magazine 11(1796) 453-6."  Here again there is a conspicuous difference in Wordsworth and Coleridge in their way of accepting Enfield. In his note to the word 'Poetry' in the sentence "Poetry sheds no tears 'such as Angels weep,' but natural and human tears", in the 1802 "Preface", Wordsworth asserts:
I here use the word 'Poetry' (though against my own judgment) as opposed to the word Prose, and synonymous with metrical composition. But much confusion has been introduced into criticism by this contradistinction of Poetry and Science, instead of the more philosophical one of Poetry and Prose. The only strict antithesis to Prose is Metre.OA 602
Presumably the passage was written under the strong influence of Coleridge, although it preceded Coleridge's Lectures by at least a decade. Yet, unlike Coleridge's idea, Wordsworth writes that Poetry and Science are not antithetical but play an essentially complementary roles:
Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science. ... Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge—-it is as immortal as the heart of man. If the labours of Men of Science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the Poet will sleep then no more than at present, but he will be ready to follow the steps of the Man of Science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the Science itself.PLB 606
Here it should be stressed that in spite of the slight differences in their implications, Enfield, Wordsworth and Coleridge agreed to change the line of demarcation between poetry and prose. According to Aasleff, this idea of demolishing the barrier between prose and poetry can be traced back to Condillac. When a text is set and viewed in stylistic or linguistic discourse, the distinction between prose and poetry quickly disappears, because the functional medium for both sides is nothing but language. More than anything else the medium of poetry is language. Aarsleff argues that in De l'art d'ecrire (1775), especially in the final chapter "Observations on poetic style and incidentally on what determines the quality that belongs to each genre of style", Condillac stated that "the essential differences cannot be fixed in terms of prose and poetry" (C 461) because "both of them deal with the same subjects" (C 461). (FLS 376-8) The difference lies between the style of the philosopher and the style of the Lyric poet." (C 451 ) It is worth noting that Wordsworth offered a similar idea:
...not only the language of a large portion of every good poem, even of the most elevated character, must necessarily, except with reference to the metre, in no respect differ from that of good prose, but likewise that some of the most interesting parts of the best poems will be found to be strictly the language of prose, when prose is well written.PLB 133
In the 1802 "Preface", moreover, he added with a confidence that "there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition." (PLB 135) He dared to assert that Prose can have Metre, because "lines and passages of metre so naturally occur in writing prose." (PLB 135) Like eighteenth-century aesthetic primitivists, Wordsworth adopted here the notion of antithesis between art and nature; he also condemned everything that took on the tinge of artificial. This is an epoch-making statement, which announces the birth of free verse. Modern poets, such as Baudelaire and Whitman, endeavoured to authenticate their own style of poetry:
These comments mark the beginnings of what can be called, in Pound's phrase, 'the prose tradition in verse', which, in his example, means trying to say, 'Send me the kind of Rembrandt I like' , in terms of 'Send me four pounds of ten-penny nails.'
Rehder explains "[f]ree verse originates in the desire for greater precision in the representation of feeling and its irregularity suggests a lack of order in the world, a perception of our minds and lives as chaotic." (WBMP 206) Wordsworth was too sincere not to ignore this chaos. To demolish the barrier between prose and poetry is for him a useful means to cope with this internalised chaos. To the contrary, Coleridge in Biographia Literaria denied the promiscuity of poetry and prose.
Admittedly both Wordsworth and Coleridge were familiar with Blair's ideas on poetry, but they were under a more direct influence of Enfield's article in the Monthly Magazine. Their ways of accepting Enfield were different as if it had foretold their separation in near future. Although Wordsworth's debts to eighteenth-century writers are obvious, Enfield should be counted as the immediate and important predecessor for his idea of language. We can hardly exclude Enfield's contribution in the line of transmission of Longinean ideas of expressionism from Blair to Wordsworth. Lastly, it should be added that a number of translations of Hugh Blair's works were made in France in 1797, when the fame of Condillac reached its peak.
It is difficult to believe that Wordsworth and Coleridge would have failed to read Blair's works at first hand. Both of them must have read the extracts in Knox's Elegant Extracts ... in Prose. Knox's book was then a commonly used textbook at schools, not only at Hawkshead Grammar School, which Wordsworth attended, but also at Coleridge's old school, Christ's Hospital. Moreover, Coleridge borrowed the second Volume of Blair's 1783 edition of Lectures from Bristol Library; see Duncan Wu, Wordsworth's Reading 1770-1799 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) p. 181 (hereafter WR in the text). Wu points out that pencil markings were made from pages 51 to 111 of that copy:
There is something on nearly every pages of Blair's Lectures that would have interested Wordsworth and Coleridge, and which ties with various statements they made subsequently. This was the most important single borrowing during the period, and was one of a succession of books...that helped established the thinking behind the Lyrical Ballads.WR 181
Hugh Blair, Lectures: Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (London: Charles Daly, 1839); hereafter B in the text.
The Monthly Magazine occupied an exceptional place among magazines of the period. Highly intellectual, it was aimed at Dissenters and Radicals. Coleridge was a regular contributor to the Monthly Magazine by this time. The magazine contained articles on literary criticism, politics, economics, divinity, and even science. Enfield was one of the main contributors, who used the pseudonym "The Enquirer". John Aikin, the editor of The Monthly Magazine identified Enfield as "The Enquirer" in the November 1797 issue; see WR 54.
All references to The Monthly Magazine (November 1797) are MM in the text.
M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Traditions, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953) pp. 70-71; hereafter ML in the text.
All references are to William Wordsworth, The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974); hereafter PLB in the text.
John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987) p. 405; hereafter L in the text.
W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser, "Commentary", in PLB pp. 172-3; hereafter OS in the text.
Hans Aasleff, "Wordsworth, Language and Romanticism", Essays in Criticism 30 (1980) p. 220; hereafter A in the text.
"Tous nos besoins tiennent les uns aux autres, et l'on en pourrait considerer les perceptions comme une suite d'idees fondarnentales, auxquelles on rapporterait tout ce qui fait partie de nos connaissances. Au-dessus de chacunes s'eleverait d'autres suites d'idees qui formeraient des especes de chaines, dont la force serait entierement dans l'analogie de signes, dans l'ordre des perceptions et dans la liaison que les circonstances qui reunissent quelquefois les idees les plus disparates auraient formee. " [Etienne de Condillac, Oeuvres completes, ed. Georges de Roy, 3 vols. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1947-51) vol. I, p. 49; hereafter CO in the text.
Hans Aasleff, From Locke to Saussure (London: Athlone, 1982) p. 207; hereafter FLSin the text.
Joseph Priestley, A Course of Lecture on the Theory of Language and Universal Grammar (Warrington, 1762); hereafter CLT in the text.
He noticed that the "use if letters [tended] to fix the modes of it [i.e. language]" (p,135); that in a politically unified nation like the Roman empire(unlike the warring Greek states) there is a natural tendency to imitate the language of established power and mat 'by this means Dialects, though used in conversation, would hardly ever be introduced into writing and the written language would be capable of being reduced very nearly to a perfect uniformity. [Michael Baron, Language and Relationship in Wordsworth's Writing (London and New York: Longman, 1955) pp. 14-15]
His definition of poetry is given in the famous Lecture XXXVIII of Blair's Lectures was that "it is the language of passion, or of enlivened imagination, formed most commonly, into regular numbers."(B 312)
William Wordsworth, The Oxford Authors: William Wordsworth, ed. Stephen Gill (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984); hereafter OA in the text.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs, 6 vols. (Oxford and New York, 1956-71) vol. I, p. 277.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vol.5, ed. R. A. Foaks, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987) p. 19.
R. A. Foaks, "Notes", The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vol. 5, p. 219, n4.
"Il faut considerer si, en ereintant les meme sujets, la poesie et la prose se font chacune une fin paticuliere, ou si toutes deux elles ont la meme." [Etienne de Condillac, Oeuvres completes vol. V, p. 461]
Robert Rehder, Wordsworth and the Beginnings of Modern Poetry (London, Croom Helm: 1981) p. 206; hereafter WBMP in the text.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1956) Chapter 22, p. 143.