1815
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Preface to Poems.

Poems by William Wordsworth: including Lyrical ballads, and the Miscellaneous Pieces of the Author, with additional Poems, a new Preface and a supplementary Essay. 2 Vols.

William Wordsworth


William Wordsworth's positive assessment of Spenser's allegory was a minority view at this time. Not seen.

Charles Lamb wrote to Wordsworth in April 1815, "I wish you would write more criticism, about Spenser &c—. I think I could say something about him myself" Letters, ed. Marrs (1975) 3:149.

Monthly Review: "In a preface to the Poems before us, which is not remarkable for clearness of idea nor for humility of tone, a fresh attempt is made to give that air of invention and novelty to Mr. W.'s writings which it seems to be his main object to claim. He wishes to be the founder of a school or system in poetry; and he endeavours to refer all his chance-effusions, all his waking thoughts, suggested by the stocks and stones or the old men and children that he encounters, to some particular class of composition, in which this or that faculty of the human mind has been appropriately exercised. Thus in the present volumes we have a poem belonging to the class of 'Fancy,' with no possible distinguishing characteristic from another in the class of 'Imagination;' 'the Affections' lay claim to a third, which might as well have been ranked under the head of 'Sentiment and Reflection;' and, in short, we have such a pompous classification of trifles, for the most part obvious and extremely childish, that we do not remember to have ever met with so Much Ado about Nothing in any other author" NS 78 (November 1815) 225-26.

John Wilson: "Wordsworth alone of all Poets — living or dead — may be said to have drunk at the same Fount — and to have been urged thither by the same sacred thirst as the Poet of the Faery Queen" Blackwood's Magazine (November 1833) 806.




The grand store-house of enthusiastic and meditative Imagination, of poetical, as contradistinguished from human and dramatic Imagination, is the prophetic and lyrical parts of the holy Scriptures, and the works of Milton, to which I cannot forbear to add those of Spenser. I select these writers in preference to those of ancient Greece or Rome, because the anthropomorphitism of the Pagan religion subjected the minds of the greatest poets in those countries too much to the bondage of definite form; from which the Hebrews were preserved by their abhorrence of idolatry. This abhorrence was almost as strong in our great epic Poet, both from circumstances of his life, and from the constitution of his mind. However imbued the surface might be with classical literature, he was a Hebrew in soul; and all things tended in him to the sublime. Spenser, of a gentler nature, maintained his freedom by aid of his allegorical spirit, at one time inciting him to create persons out of abstractions; and at another, by a superior effort of genius, to give the universality and permanence of abstractions to his human beings, by means of attributes and emblems that belong to the highest moral truths and the purest sensations, — of which his character of Una is a glorious example. . . .


[Prose, ed. A. B. Grosart (1876) 2:139-40]