1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

Anonymous, in "The Augustan Age in England" The Album 1 (1822) 215-16.



Neither do we think that our claim of pre-eminence for the present age will gain much from the Lake School. Mr. WORDSWORTH, a man of real poetical genius, and decidedly the first of this class — has lost the world for an hypothesis, and been content to lose it. His preface to the Lyrical Ballads, and the expectation of bringing poetry to conform to it, remind us of the building the city of Washington without there being any inhabitants to people it. Mr. Wordsworth, accordingly, has kept toiling all his life to support his hypothesis and has consequently produced no poetry which any but himself and his confraternity can read. Our limits do not permit us to make quotations, and we have for that reason abstained from doing it throughout this paper — otherwise we could produce an infinity of passages which any person of sound intellects, untinged with the idiotcy of Lakism, would pronounce to be downright drivelling and (second) childishness. We have known some of Mr. W.'s own poetry decried as an absurd and nonsensical imitation of him. Did any body ever read the White Doe of Rylstone? Some doubtless have attempted it; and let those unhappy persons call to mind the poetry — poetry! — which they there met with. Can they believe it possible, that the author of that tissue of infantine absurdity has been reckoned by some the first poet of his age — the nearest of all writers to Milton? He may be so, on the principle of extremes meeting. We do not, however, deny that the old pedlar in the Excursion sometimes spouts some fine verses; but it is impossible to toil for them through the mine of trash, in which they lie hid. We, nevertheless, acknowledge that the poetical genius which Mr. W. does possess, breaks out in this poem into occasional gleams of exquisite beauty, which make us the more angry at the utter drivelling of the greater part of his writings.