Alaric Alexander Watts

William Wordsworth to Alaric Alexander Watts, 16 November 1824; in Alaric Watts ... by his Son (1884) 1:199-201.

Rydal Mount, Ambleside,

November 16, 1824.


On my return home, after a prolonged absence, I found upon my table your little volume and accompanying letter, for both of which I return you sincere thanks. The letter written by my sister upon their arrival does not leave it less incumbent on me to notice these marks of your attention. Of the poems I had accidentally a hasty glance before; I have now perused them at leisure, and, notwithstanding the modest manner in which you speak of their merits, I must be allowed to say that I think the volume one of no common promise, and that some of the pieces are valuable, independent of such consideration. My sister tells me she named the "Ten Years Ago." It is one of this kind; and I agree with her in rating it more highly than any other of the collection. Let me point out the thirteenth stanza of the first poem — with the exception of the last line but one, as exactly to my taste, both in sentiment and language. Should I name other poems that particularly pleased me I might select the "Sketch from real Life," and the lyrical pieces, the "Serenade," and "Dost Thou love the Lyre." The fifth stanza of the latter would be better omitted, slightly a altering the commencement of the preceding one. In lyric poetry the subject and simile should be as much as possible lost in each other.

It cannot but be gratifying to me to learn from your letter that my productions have proved so interesting, and as you are induced to say beneficial, to a writer whose pieces bear such undeniable marks of sensibility as appear in yours. I hope there may not be so Much in my writings to mislead a young poet as is by many roundly asserted; but I am not the less disposed strenuously to recommend to your habitual perusal the great poets of our own country, who have stood the test of ages. Shakespeare I need not name, nor Milton; but Chaucer and Spenser are apt to be overlooked. It is almost painful to think how far these surpass all others.

I have to thank you, as I presume, for a Leeds Intelligencer, containing a critique on my poetical character, which, but for your attention, I probably should not have seen. Some will say, "Did you ever know a poet who would agree with his critic when he was finding fault, especially if on the whole he was inclined to praise?" I will ask, did you ever know a critic who suspected it to be possible that he himself might be in the wrong? — in other words, who did not regard his own impressions as the test of excellence? The author of these candid strictures accounts with some pains for the disgust or indifference with which the world received a large portion of my verse, yet without thinking the worse of this portion himself; but wherever the string of his own sympathies is not touched the blame is mine. "Goody Blake and Harry Gill" is apparently no favourite with the person who has transferred the article into the Leeds paper; yet Mr. Crabbe in my hearing said that "Everybody must be delighted with that poem." The "Idiot Boy" was a special favourite with the late Mr. Fox, and with the present Mr. Canning. The South American critic quarrels with the "Celandine," and no doubt would with the "Daffodils," etc.; yet on this last the other day I heard of a most ardent panegyric from a high authority. But these matters are to be decided by principles; and I only mention the above facts to show that there are reasons upon the surface of things for a critic to suspect his own judgment.

You will excuse the length of this letter, and the more readily if you attribute it to the respect I entertain for your sensibility and genius.

Believe me, very truly,

Your obedient servant,