Professor Reed, in his American edition of , however, acted on Wordsworth's expressed intention of distributing the contents of "Yarrow Revisited, and Other Poems" amongst the classes.
He tells us that he "interspersed the contents of this volume among the Poems already arranged" by Wordsworth. Few English poets changed their text more frequently, or with more fastidiousness, than Wordsworth did. He did not always alter it for the better. Every alteration however, which has been discovered by me, whether for the better or for the worse, is here printed in full.
We have thus a record of the fluctuations of his own mind as to the form in which he wished his Poems to appear; and this record casts considerable light on the development of his genius. Either the reader must have access to all the thirty-two editions of Poems, the publication of which Wordsworth personally supervised; or, he must have all the changes in the successive editions, exhibited in the form of footnotes, and appended to the particular text that is selected and printed in the body of the work.
It is extremely difficult—in some cases quite impossible—to obtain the early editions. The great public libraries of the country do not possess them all. The text which—after much consideration—I have resolved to place throughout, in the body of the work, is Wordsworth's own final 'textus receptus', i. There are only three possible courses open to an editor, who wishes to give—along with the text selected—all the various readings chronologically arranged as footnotes. Either, 1st, the earliest text may be taken, or 2nd, the latest may be chosen, or 3rd, the text may be selected from different editions, so as to present each poem in its best state according to the judgment of the editor , in whatever edition it is found.
A composite text, made up from two or more editions, would be inadmissible.
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Now, most persons who have studied the subject know that Wordsworth's best text is to be found, in one poem in its earliest edition, in another in its latest, and in a third in some intermediate edition. I cannot agree either with the statement that he always altered for the worse, or that he always altered for the better. His critical judgment was not nearly so unerring in this respect as Coleridge's was, or as Tennyson's has been.
It may be difficult, therefore, to assign an altogether satisfactory reason for adopting either the earliest or the latest text; and at first sight, the remaining alternative plan may seem the wisest of the three. There are indeed difficulties in the way of the adoption of any one of the methods suggested; and as I adopt the latest text—not because it is always intrinsically the best, but on other grounds to be immediately stated—it may clear the way, if reference be made in the first instance to the others, and to the reasons for abandoning them. As to a selection of the text from various editions, this would doubtless be the best plan, were it a practicable one; and perhaps it may be attainable some day.
But Wordsworth is as yet too near us for such an editorial treatment of his Works to be successful. The fundamental objection to it is that scarcely two minds—even among the most competent of contemporary judges—will agree as to what the best text is. An edition arranged on this principle could not possibly be acceptable to more than a few persons. Of course no arrangement of any kind can escape adverse criticism: it would be most unfortunate if it did.
But this particular edition would fail in its main purpose, if questions of individual taste were made primary, and not secondary; and an arrangement, which gave scope for the arbitrary selection of particular texts,—according to the wisdom, or the want of wisdom, of the editor,—would deservedly meet with severe criticism in many quarters. Besides, such a method of arrangement would not indicate the growth of the Poet's mind, and the development of his genius. If an editor wished to indicate his own opinion of the best text for each poem—under the idea that his judgment might be of some use to other people—it would be wiser to do so by means of some mark or marginal note, than by printing his selected text in the main body of the work.
He could thus at once preserve the chronological order of the readings, indicate his own preference, and leave it to others to select what they preferred. Besides, the compiler of such an edition would often find himself in doubt as to what the best text really was, the merit of the different readings being sometimes almost equal, or very nearly balanced; and, were he to endeavour to get out of the difficulty by obtaining the judgments of literary men, or even of contemporary poets, he would find that their opinions would in most cases be dissimilar, if they did not openly conflict.
Those who cannot come to a final decision as to their own text would not be likely to agree as to the merits of particular readings in the poems of their predecessors. Unanimity of opinion on this point is indeed quite unattainable. Nevertheless, it would be easy for an editor to show the unfortunate result of keeping rigorously either to the latest or to the earliest text of Wordsworth.
If, on the one hand, the latest were taken, it could be shown that many of the changes introduced into it were for the worse, and some of them very decidedly so. For example, in the poem 'To a Skylark'—composed in —the second verse, retained in the editions of , , , and , was unaccountably dropped out in the editions of and The following is the complete poem of , as published in Ethereal Minstrel!
Pilgrim of the sky! Dost thou despise the earth where cares abound? Or, while the wings aspire, are heart and eye Both with thy nest upon the dewy ground? Thy nest which thou canst drop into at will, Those quivering wings composed, that music still! To the last point of vision, and beyond, Mount, daring Warbler!
Leave to the Nightingale her shady wood; A privacy of glorious light is thine; Whence thou dost pour upon the world a flood Of harmony, with rapture more divine; Type of the wise who soar, but never roam; True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home! There is no doubt that the first and third stanzas are the finest, and some may respect the judgment that cut down the Poem by the removal of its second verse: but others will say, if it was right that such a verse should be removed, why were many others of questionable merit allowed to remain?
Why was such a poem as 'The Glowworm', of the edition of , never republished; while 'The Waterfall and the Eglantine', and 'To the Spade of a Friend', were retained? To give one other illustration, where a score are possible. In the sonnet, belonging to the year , beginning: "Beloved Vale! On the other hand, if the earliest text be invariably retained, some of the best poems will be spoiled or the improvements lost , since Wordsworth did usually alter for the better.
For example, few persons will doubt that the form in which the second stanza of the poem 'To the Cuckoo' written in appeared in , is an improvement on all its predecessors. I give the readings of , , , , and While I am lying on the grass, I hear thy restless shout: From hill to hill it seems to pass, About, and all about!
While I am lying on the grass, Thy loud note smites my ear! It seems to fill the whole air's space, At once far off and near.
While I am lying on the grass Thy twofold shout I hear, That seems to fill the whole air's space, As loud far off as near. While I am lying on the grass Thy twofold shout I hear, From hill to hill it seems to pass, At once far off, and near. Similarly, in each of the three poems 'To the Daisy', composed in , and in the 'Afterthought, to the Duddon', the alterations introduced into the latest editions were all improvements upon the early version. It might be urged that these considerations would warrant the interference of an editor, and justify him in selecting the text which he thought the best upon the whole; but this must be left to posterity.
When editors can escape the bias of contemporary thought and feeling, when their judgments are refined by distance and mellowed by the new literary standards of the intervening years,—when in fact Wordsworth is as far away from his critics as Shakespeare now is—it may be possible to adjust a final text. But the task is beyond the power of the present generation.
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It may farther be urged that if this reasoning be valid,—and if, for the present, one text must be retained uniformly throughout,—the natural plan is to take the earliest, and not the latest; and this has some recommendations. It seems more simple, more natural, and certainly the easiest. We have a natural sequence, if we begin with the earliest and go on to the latest readings.
Then, all the readers of Wordsworth, who care to possess or to consult the present edition, will doubtless possess one or other of the complete copies of his works, which contain his final text; while probably not one in twenty have ever seen the first edition of any of his poems, with the exception of 'The Prelude'. It is true that if the reader turns to a footnote to compare the versions of different years, while he is reading for the sake of the poetry, he will be so distracted that the effect of the poem as a whole will be entirely lost; because the critical spirit, which judges of the text, works apart from the spirit of sympathetic appreciation, in which all poetry should be read.
But it is not necessary to turn to the footnotes, and to mark what may be called the literary growth of a poem, while it is being read for its own sake: and these notes are printed in smaller type, so as not to obtrude themselves on the eye of the reader. Against the adoption of the earlier text, there is this fatal objection, that if it is to be done at all, it must be done throughout; and, in the earliest poems Wordsworth wrote—viz. His changes were all, or almost all, unmistakably for the better.
Indeed, there was little in these works—in the form in which they first appeared—to lead to the belief that an original poet had arisen in England. It is true that Coleridge saw in them the signs of the dawn of a new era, and wrote thus of 'Descriptive Sketches', before he knew its author, "Seldom, if ever, was the emergence of a great and original poetic genius above the literary horizon more evidently announced.
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The quarto of will therefore be reprinted in full as an Appendix to the first volume of this edition. The 'School Exercise written at Hawkshead' in the poet's fourteenth year, will be found in vol. Passing over these juvenile efforts, there are poems—such as 'Guilt and Sorrow', 'Peter Bell', and many others—in which the earlier text is an inferior one, which was either corrected or abandoned by Wordsworth in his maturer years.
It would be a conspicuous blunder to print—in the place of honour,—the crude original which was afterwards repudiated by its author. It may be remembered, in connection with Wordsworth's text, that he himself said, "I am for the most part uncertain about my success in altering poems; but, in this case" he is speaking of an insertion "I am sure I have produced a great improvement. Dyce in , "You know what importance I attach to following strictly the last copy of the text of an author. The second edition of "Lyrical Ballads" appeared in In that edition the text of is scarcely altered: but, in the year in which it was published, Wordsworth was engrossed with his settlement at Grasmere; and, in the springtime of creative work, he probably never thought of revising his earlier pieces.
In the year , he composed at least twenty-five new poems. The third edition of "Lyrical Ballads" appeared in ; and during that year he wrote forty-three new poems, many of them amongst the most perfect of his Lyrics. His critical instinct had become much more delicate since and it is not surprising to find—as we do find—that between the text of the "Lyrical Ballads" of , and that of , there are many important variations. This is seen, for example, in the way in which he dealt with 'The Female Vagrant', which is altered throughout.
Its early redundance is pruned away; and, in many instances, the final text, sanctioned in , had been adopted in Without going into further detail, it is sufficient to remark that in the year Wordsworth's critical faculty, the faculty of censorship, had developed almost step for step with the creative originality of his genius. In that prolific year, when week by week, almost day by day, fresh poems were thrown off with marvellous facility—as we see from his sister's Journal—he had become a severe, if not a fastidious, critic of his own earlier work.
A further explanation of the absence of critical revision, in the edition of , may be found in the fact that during that year Wordsworth was engaged in writing the "Preface" to his Poems; which dealt, in so remarkable a manner, with the nature of Poetry in general, and with his own theory of it in particular. A further reference to the 'Evening Walk' will illustrate Wordsworth's way of dealing with his earlier text in his later editions.
This Poem showed from the first a minute observation of Nature—not only in her external form and colour, but also in her suggestiveness—though not in her symbolism; and we also find the same transition from Nature to Man, the same interest in rural life, and the same lingering over its incidents that we see in his maturer poems. Nevertheless, there is much that is conventional in the first edition of 'An Evening Walk', published in I need only mention, as a sample, the use of the phrase "silent tides" to describe the waters of a lake. When this poem was revised, in the year —with a view to its insertion in the first edition of the collected works—Wordsworth merely omitted large portions of it, and some of its best passages were struck out.
He scarcely amended the text at all. In , however, he pruned and improved it throughout; so that between this poem, as recast in and reproduced almost 'verbatim' in the next two editions of and , and his happiest descriptions of Nature in his most inspired moods, there is no great difference. But, in , he altered it still further in detail; and in that state practically left it, apparently not caring to revise it further.
In the edition of , however, there are several changes. So far as I can judge, there is one alteration for the worse, and one only.
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The reading, in the edition of , In these lone vales, if aught of faith may claim, Thin silver hairs, and ancient hamlet fame; When up the hills, as now, retreats the light, Strange apparitions mock the village sight, is better than that finally adopted, In these secluded vales, if village fame, Confirmed by hoary hairs, belief may claim; When up the hills, as now, retired the light, Strange apparitions mocked the shepherd's sight. It will be seen, however, from the changes made in the text of this poem, how Wordsworth's observation of Nature developed, how thoroughly dissatisfied he soon became with everything conventional, and discarded every image not drawn directly or at first hand from Nature.
The text adopted in the present edition is, for the reasons stated, that which was finally sanctioned by Wordsworth himself, in the last edition of his Poems The earlier readings, occurring in previous editions, are given in footnotes; and it may be desirable to explain the way in which these are arranged. It will be seen that whenever the text has been changed a date is given in the footnote, 'before' the other readings are added. This date, which accompanies the reference number of the footnote, indicates the year in which the reading finally retained was first adopted by Wordsworth.