Vous êtes sur la nouvelle plateforme d’Érudit. Bonne visite! Retour à l’ancien site

Articles

Lucy Revived

  • H. J. Jackson

…plus d’informations

  • H. J. Jackson
    University of Toronto

Logo de Romanticism on the Net

Corps de l’article

I must begin this short essay by outlining the main points of the debate about the "Lucy Poems." Wordsworth composed three of them late in 1798 and published them one after the other, each of them untitled, in the 1800, 1802, and 1805 Lyrical Ballads: these were 'Strange fits of passion I have known,' 'She dwelt among th'untrodden ways,' and 'A slumber did my spirit seal.' They are all concerned with love and grief; the first two of them use the name Lucy. They are set apart from the titled poem 'Lucy Gray,' which has to do with the death of a child and not a grown woman, and also from the untitled 'Three years she grew,' which reflects upon the death of a beloved young woman named Lucy. In 1802, Wordsworth tried to add another untitled poem that names Lucy, 'I travelled among unknown men,' to follow 'A slumber,' but the printer let him down. In the 1815 Poems, he kept the first two poems together and added 'I travelled' to the set, but printed 'Three years' and 'A slumber' in a different section. Some of Wordsworth's contemporaries referred to the poems about a grown Lucy—four or five, depending on whether you count 'A slumber'—as a group, and Victorian editors reinforced this way of thinking by printing them all together as a series, although Wordsworth himself had never done so. Some readers argued for the inclusion of other poems such as 'She was a phantom of delight' and 'Among all lovely things my love had been' (another naming Lucy; also known under the title 'The Glow-Worm'). The critical establishment amused itself with biographical speculation and source-hunting until 1965, when Hugh Sykes-Davies blew the whole thing apart by showing that the supposed Lucy cycle was a fiction made up by editors, anthologizers, and parodists. In his excellent recent book, The 'Lucy Poems': A Case Study in Literary Knowledge, Mark Jones agrees, on the whole, with Sykes-Davies, describing the grouping as 'an editorial decision, an interpretive simplification' of Wordsworth's 'broken and shifting lyrical orderings'.  [1] Case closed.

Well, no, not entirely. Jones's concern is with the reception of Wordsworth's work. He works forward from the time of publication to the present, using compelling critical analysis to show how one generation after another has made over the Wordsworthian corpus to reflect its own interests, including Sykes-Davies's New Critical agenda. He himself, interested in ambiguity, indeterminacy, and reader response, is ready to concede that Wordsworth's groupings hinted at connections, teased and encouraged readers to make connections; he believes that Wordsworth expected 'to provoke the constructive activity of readers' (Jones 3). But he declares that 'If it is easy now to "recognize" the "Lucy Poems" as early instances of "internal narrative," this category was not fully viable when they were first composed' (Jones 87). If you look back instead of forward, however, it is possible to find a precedent for the implicit narrative sequence in a scattered and shifting series of lyric poems about another Lucy—Lucy Fortescue Lyttelton.

Lucy Fortescue was married to George Lyttelton of Hagley Park, Worcestershire, in 1742. She bore three children, two of whom survived her, and died at the age of 29 in 1747. Her husband was a rising MP with powerful family connections; he later became a Chancellor of the Exchequer and the first Baron Lyttelton. He remarried in 1749, but the second marriage ended in a separation. He was a man of letters and a patron of literature. He seems to have been a kind person: he came to be known as 'the good Lord Lyttelton'; Tom Jones is dedicated to him. When Wordsworth was growing up, Lyttelton's was still a name to conjure with. Everyone knew the 'Monody' that he had written to honor the memory of his first wife: it had been published separately in 1747 and then included in editions of his collected works from 1774 onwards, in anthologies such as Vicesimus Knox's Elegant Extracts in Verse, and eventually, with a biographical preface, in Johnson's, Anderson's, and Chalmers's sets of the works of British poets. Wordsworth probably used Knox's collection at school; he owned an Anderson, though not until about 1800. According to Duncan Wu, he had certainly read Lyttelton's 'Monody' by 1786.  [2] In his 'Essay on Epitaphs' (1810), Wordsworth alludes to Lyttelton's 'Monody' and the 'Epitaph' that he wrote for his Lucy, both of which are included in Knox and Anderson. We can be confident that they were familiar to him by the time he published his own Lucy poems. Given the demand for separate editions of Lyttelton's work, besides the anthologies, in the 1770s and 80s, we can assume that they were familiar to Wordsworth's readers as well.

I do not mean to suggest that the connection between Lyttelton and Wordsworth has gone altogether unnoticed, though it has certainly gone unexplored. In 1929, H. W. Garrod favored Samuel Rogers as a precedent for the choice of the name Lucy, but conceded that 'There are Lucys in poetry, of course, long before Rogers. There is Tickell's Colin and Lucy. There is the Lucy of Lyttelton's best-known poem. And there is ...' and so the catalogue continues.  [3] Lyttelton's name tends to crop up derivatively when people are doing this, surveying earlier Lucys. But I really wonder whether anybody has ever taken the trouble to go back and read Lyttelton. Garrod failed to notice that there are some verbal echoes from the 'Monody' in the Wordsworth poems that make the link somewhat stronger than it is for Rogers or Tickell, for example 'the rolling year its various course perform'd,' looking forward to Wordsworth's 'rolled round in earth's diurnal course.' But it is much more significant that in the twentieth century nobody appears to have realized that Lyttelton did not write only one Lucy poem. In fact he provides a precedent for the fluid grouping of loosely connected lyrics that readers and editors have stubbornly continued to see in Wordsworth's work.

Twelve Lucy poems, variously ordered in different editions, tell Lyttelton's story of uneasy courtship, blissful domestic life, and abrupt and devastating loss. I stress 'variously ordered,' because it indicates that readers of Wordsworth's generation accepted editorial decisions about organization and were capable of tracing a narrative sequence even when the parts were dispersed. All presentations of Lyttelton's Lucy poems as a set are posthumous and to that extent non-authorial. On the other hand, Lyttelton was planning a collected edition when he died and he was certainly aware of the 'progress' trope, having published The Progress of Love, in Four Eclogues, in 1732, long before he courted Lucy Fortescue. In Anderson—the most likely source for Wordsworth—all the poems 'To Miss Lucy Fortescue,' 'To the Same,' etc., are assembled in five pages, as they had been in the first collected edition of 1774, but in the 1785 edition of Lyttelton's works the marriage group precedes the courtship one and the epitaph, and in other editions there are similar variations.

What is the point of this resurrection of an old scholarly dispute? Is this a regression to biographical speculation and source-hunting? On the contrary. I am trying to show that the subdiscipline that we call Textual Studies or History of the Book may be capable of catching familiar objects in a clear new light. The example of Lyttelton indicates that in the second half of the eighteenth century, the Golden Age of literary collections and anthologies, poets' works were subject to editorial ordering and that narrative could be one of the organizing principles; it was not a discovery of the Victorian period. If that is so, Wordsworth would have known as he wrote and sorted his own poems that his audience was prepared for such connections, and that the connections did not have to be explicit or permanent. Even if he had not been aware of the Lucy group in Lyttelton's work before he began to publish his own in 1800, he would have understood the convention of grouping: it was what publishers were doing at the time.

But we can be sure he did know Lyttelton's group. Another newish approach—intertextuality—encourages us to think of the two sets of Lucy poems in relation to one another, and of their reciprocal influence. Lyttelton was one of the older generation of poets that provoked Wordsworth to abandon conventionally polished lyrical expression, and Wordsworth is one of the reasons that Lyttelton is unread and almost unreadable today. Take, for example, the first poem in Lyttelton's series, 'To Miss Lucy Fortescue.' It describes the inarticulateness that betrays the true lover:

Once, by the muse alone inspir'd
I sung my amorous strains:
No serious love my bosom fir'd;
Yet every tender maid, deceiv'd,
The idly-mournful tale believ'd
And wept my fancied pains.
But Venus now, to punish me
For having feign'd too well,
Has made my heart so fond of thee,
That not the whole Aonian choir
Can accents soft enough inspire,
Its real flame to tell.

Set this alongside 'She dwelt among th'untrodden ways,' and what Wordsworth wrote about Lyttelton's 'Epitaph' in 1810 seems self-evident: 'there is no under current, no skeleton or stamina, of thought and feeling'; 'Lord Lyttleton could not have written in this way upon such a subject, if he had not been seduced by the example of Pope ...'.  [4] The classical allusions, the trite phrasing of 'amorous strains' and 'tender maids', the compound epithet, even the tidy rhymes had to be discarded.

The biographical and critical preface that introduces Anderson's selection from Lyttelton's poems praises the 'elegance, ease, and harmony' of his verse, and declares of the 'Monody' that 'He who can read it without melting into tears, has little claim to sensibility'.  [5] Wordsworth disagreed. His own Lucy poems go to show how sincerity and depth of feeling could be more convincingly represented by a fresh vocabulary and unostentatious means. They may suggest that one is better off not writing directly from personal experience: Wordsworth's Lucy is neither Lucy Lyttelton nor a hitherto unidentified Annette Vallon but, as critics have said repeatedly, a literary amalgam in which it now seems that Lyttelton's Lucy played a significant part. The relation of Wordsworth's Lucy to Lyttelton's is far from filial, however. It is corrective—though how self-consciously so we will never know.

To someone of Wordsworth's principles, it must have seemed positively reprehensible of Lyttelton to have squandered so delicate a subject. Wordsworth does not question Lyttelton's intentions. Elsewhere, he says of him that his 'feeling heart' was 'wholly laid asleep' by 'false taste'.  [6] Though he objects to the language of the 'Epitaph,' he acknowledges that '[w]e know from other evidence that Lord Lyttelton dearly loved his wife.' What was the 'other evidence'? Possibly the biographical preface in Anderson; possibly the 'Monody,' which Wordsworth mentions quite respectfully. Possibly just common knowledge, and this is my final reason for putting forward the claims of Lucy Lyttelton and the group of poems published about her.

The Lyttelton estate, Hagley Park, was within the Wordsworths' ambit and they visited it like other tourists,  [7] probably more than once. They would have known from Anderson that Lucy Lyttelton had been buried in Staffordshire, and a monument to her memory erected in the church at Hagley. Hester Thrale had likewise been at Hagley (with Dr. Johnson) in 1777, just a few years after Lyttelton's death. She records an apocryphal local legend that dramatically, even melodramatically, expresses the depth and endurance of Lyttelton's devotion. 'The family Monuments pleased me very much at Hagley,' she wrote,

and the Anecdote of Lord Lyttelton taking up the Corpse of his Lucy from some other consecrated Ground, and bringing it home to be interr'd with his own, when he found his Death approaching—made me envy even a Corpse which was the Subject of such Tenderness— [8]

Parties annexes