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The idea of 'the real language of men' in the 1800 'Preface' to Lyrical Ballads; or Enfield's idea of language derived from Condillac[Notice]

  • Ruriko Suzuki

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  • Ruriko Suzuki
    Tohoku-Gakuin University

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: 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: 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 ...

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