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WORDSWORTH, COLERIDGE, AND THE "PLAN" OF THE LYRICAL BALLADS MARK L. REED Most longer recent studies of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge have contributed one way or another to clearer discernment of the varied and complex personal forces, the tides obedient and currents self-determined, that were interacting in the progress of the friendship of the poets. One fact increasingly well understood is, that however much at some time the two men may have considered themselves "twins almost in genius and in mind," there were at work from the outset of their association individual elements of thought and personality making emergence of doubts and hesitations in each about the ideas or even character of the other a matter only of time. It also is becoming increasingly evident that the formation of the first great monument of their friendship, Lyrical Ballads, and their early theoretical justifications of the volume offer a touchstone by which the dynamics of several problems latent in their relationship as a whole can be understood. Professor Parrish, for example, has explained many of Wordsworth's probable artistic goals in his early contributions to Lyrical Ballads, and indicated the degree to which his intentions failed to coincide with the preoccupations and assumptions of Coleridge. In a recent provocative essay Professor Buchan has examined certain aspects of the poets' early companionship in terms of the needs of the personalities of both men, and has offered suggestions as to how and why Wordsworth (with a dominance characteristic of him throughout the relationship as a, whole) apparently appropriated to himself the entire joint project of Lyrical Ballads-as early as 30 April 1798, in fact, Dorothy was announcing that her brother was "about to publish some poems"-and how and why Coleridge in equally typical fashion evidently accepted without hesitation a secondary role in the historic venture, too quickly ignoring distinct differences in aim and attitude between himself and his admired companion.' Professor Parrish's remarks would no doubt lend support to the latter views, although they offer no conjecture about the precise nature of the original plans for the Lyrical Ballads and, indeed, assume that the poets had argued to some extent from early in their friendship on topics relevant to its aesthetics. Recollections by no means dim and faint of such Volume XXXIV, Number 3, April, 1965 THE PLAN OF THE Lyrical Ballads 239 arguments tum up in later remarks of Coleridge's like "To the faults and defects [of Wordsworth's poems] I have been far more alive than his detractors, even from the first publication of the Lyrical Ballads-tho' for a long course of years my opinions were sacred to his own ear.'" The doubts about Wordsworth's matter-of-factness that he expressed to Hazlitt during his 1798 visit to Nether Stowey, later recorded by Hazlitt in My First Acquaintance with Poets, indicate that some of his opinions might on occasion have reached another ear, but as to what he may have told Wordsworth himself a greater problem remains. One still wonders why not even slight contemporary evidence remains of conscious direct disagreement between the poets O n this kind of subject before and during at least the first two editions of Lyrical Ballads, and why Coleridge, whatever his later views, was in 1800 stating that Wordsworth's Preface contained his and Wordsworth's "joint opinions on Poetry" or, in 1802, that (in regard to the Preface) "with few exceptions we could scarcely either of us perhaps positively say, which first started any particular Thought.'" Increased insight into deeper levels of the early relationship of the two men amplifies problems of approach to both, for it demands clearer perception of traits in each possibly inseparable from their genius, but in any case decidedly deficient from the standpoint of attractiveness. One must acknowledge the unbending, unremitting, almost entirely humourless determination of Wordsworth's search for pennanent truths about man, nature, and human life, and for a means of expressing those truths in art, that led him to devour, digest-but too seldom acknowledge- the loyalty and contributions of his small, diversely gifted group of satellites. His intolerance towards the personal weaknesses of Coleridge and his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 238-253
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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