1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

Anonymous, in Modern Parnassus; or, The new Art of Poetry, a Poem (1814) 49-52 &n.



Oh sweet Simplicity! of rustic mien,
Whose household phrase is heard on village green;*
Where hinds and cottage maids, at setting sun,
In talk and gambol join, their labour done;
Be thou the Poet's muse! thy aid I crave,
From Art's false glare thy suppliant numbers save.

* Mr. Wordsworth's theory leads him to choose low and rustic life, as the subject of his verse. He states several reasons for adopting the language of that condition. He contends, in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, that "such a language, arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings, is a more permanent and far more philosophical language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by poets, who think that they are conferring honour upon themselves and their art, in proportion as they separate themselves from the sympathies of men, and indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits of expression, in order to furnish food for fickle tastes, and fickle appetites, of their own creation."
This is language, which might be employed with sincerity both by the advocates of the ancient and the modern school; but the meaning, which they would severally attach to it, would be far different. Mr. Wordsworth's meaning is obvious, from his illustration of the doctrine in the Lyrical Ballads, which exhibit the character and language of Betty Foy, Johnny, &c &c.
In pursuance of this plan of poetry, it would be easy, in a future edition of Milton's Poems, to expunge the Arcadian names, by which he attempted to elevate the thought, and soften the style; and to substitute, in their place, the Christian and sirnames, which are used in common life.

THE OLD WAY.
Hard by, a cottage chimney smokes,
From betwixt two aged oaks,
Where Corydon and Thyrsis met,
Are at their sav'ry dinner set,
Of herbs and other country messes,
Which the neat-handed Phyllis dresses;
And then, in haste, her bow'r she leaves,
With Thestylis to bind the sheaves.

IMPROVED VERSION.
Hard by, a cottage chimney smokes,
From betwixt two aged oaks,
Where Harry Gill and Johnny met,
Are at their sav'ry dinner set,
Of herbs and other country messes,
Which the neat-handed Betty dresses;
And then, in haste, her bow'r she leaves,
With honest Giles to bind the sheaves.

This improvement of style seems to have been adopted by some cotemporaries of M. Boileau, who speaks of the circumstance with his usual prejudice against innovation.

Au contraire, cet autre, abject dans son langage,
Fair parler ses Bergers, comme on parle au village.
Ses vers plats et grossiers, depouilles d'agrement,
Toujours baisent la terre, et rampent tristement.
On dirait que Ronsard sur ses pipeaux rustiques
Vient encor fredonner ses Idylles gothiques,
Et changer, sans respect de Poreille et du son,
Lycidas en Pierrot, et Phyllis en Thoinon.
L'ART. POET. chan. ii.