1822
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ecclesiastical Sketches XXV. Missions and Travels.

Ecclesiastical Sketches.

William Wordsworth


A sonnet: William Wordsworth compares the the transmission of learning to Redcross's quest for Una.

Robert Southey to Grosvenor C. Bedford: "Wordsworth was with me last week. Oddly enough, while I have been employed upon the Book of the Church, he has been writing a series of historical sonnets upon the same subjects, of the very highest species of excellence. My book will serve as a running commentary to his series, and the one will very materially help the other; and thus, without any concerted purpose, we shall go down to posterity in company" 15 April 1821; Life and Correspondence (1849-1850) 5:65.

British Critic: "The Ecclesiastical Sketches consist of a series of Sonnets upon the chief incidents and most interesting vicissitudes of fortune, which have befallen the Church of England from the grove-sacrifices of the Druids down to the late Act of Parliament, for the building of new places of public worship, to meet the immense increase in the numbers of our population. There are three parts; the first extending from the introduction of Christianity into Britain, to the consummation of the Papal dominion; the second, to the close of the troubles in the reign of Charles I.; and the third, from the Restoration to the present times" NS 18 (1822) 522-23.

Literary Chronicle: "Mr. Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Sketches, which are so many sonnets, and no fewer than one hundred in number, were provoked by accompanying a friend to fix the site of a new church. How fortunate for the public it is that he was not a commissioner in London, where the numerous churches planned and executing, would have caused such an influx of dull verse on the public, as must have had a serious effect on the price of waste paper. Mr. W.'s object, if indeed he had any other object beyond that of making a volume, is to versify 'certain points in the ecclesiastical history of our country;' and sad work, God knows, he has made of it: all we can gather from this luckless 'century of inventions,' is that Mr. W. is a great admirer of the established church and of priesthood; if the latter, however, have no better advocates, they had better bestir themselves" 4 (14 December 1822) 791.

Blackwood's Magazine: "It is obvious, that no one regular connected poem could have been written on so vast a subject. But although each Sonnet, according to the law of that kind of composition, is in itself a whole, yet frequently two or three of the Series are beautifully connected and blended together, so as to read like connected stanzas of one poem. And indeed when the whole series — all its three parts — is perused, the effect is magnificent, and great events, and deeds, and minds, seem to have been passing processionally before us over the floor of an enchanted stage. Mr. Wordsworth's mind is familiar with all these as with matters of to-day, and therefore he speaks of them all as of things known and felt by every man of liberal education. He flings a beam of light on some transaction dark in antiquity, and it rises up for a moment before us — he raises the coffin-lid in some old vault, and we behold the still face of one formerly great or wise on earth — he rebuilds, as with a magic wand, the holy edifice that for centuries has lain in ruins — monks and nuns walk once more in the open sun-light, and all the fading or faded pageantries of faith re-appear and vanish in melancholy and sublime mutation" 12 (August 1822) 177.

David Macbeth Moir: "His middle-life writings are more composite in character, and have either a dash of the romantic, as in The White Doe of Rylstone; or of the classical, as in Laodamia, and Dion. His last compositions are less striking. They exhibit the same artistic skill, the same mastery of the 'English undefiled,' the same majestic repose and high love of sentiment; but the sharp angles of originality have been worn off, or rubbed down; they are more diluted and dilated — are the milk without the cream; read harmoniously, but leave only a vague indefinite impression on the reader's mind. I allude more especially to the Yarrow Revisited; the Ecclesiastical Sonnets; the Sonnets on the Punishment of Death, and the miscellanies published along with them" Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851; 1852) 75-76.

In Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) W. J. B. Owen comments on several allusions to Una in Wordsworth's verse and an allusion to Archimago in the Epistle to Sir George Beaumont (1811): a dog, "by spells unnatural bound," is compared to "a gaunt shaggy porter forced to wait | in days of old romance at Archimago's gate" ll. 151-53.



Not sedentary all: there are who roam
To scatter seeds of life on barbarous shores;
Or quit with zealous step their knee-worn floors
To seek the general mart of Christendom;
Whence they, like richly-laden Merchants, come
To their beloved Cells: — or shall we say
That, like the Red-cross Knight, they urge their way,
To lead in memorable triumph home
Truth — their immortal Una? Babylon,
Learned and wise, hath perished utterly,
Nor leaves her speech wherewith to clothe a sigh
That would lament her; — Memphis, Tyre, are gone
With all their Arts, — but classic lore glides on
By these Religions saved for all posterity.

[p. 27]