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Wordsworth's recollection of what Coleridge had written in his Biographia Literaria was not exact. Two classes of poems, according to Coleridge, were to be included in the volume of Lyrical Ballads : "in the one the incidents and agents were to be in part at least supernatural, and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real. . . . For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life." These last were to be, as we now say, naturalistic or realistic, but they were to be illuminated by the light of imagination and the significance of the incidents narrated was to be interpreted by a meditative and feeling mind.
Coleridge, as I have tried to show elsewhere (Fortnightly Review, 1889: " Coleridge as a Poet"), indicates precisely wherein lay the importance of the publication of this little volume in the history
of our literature. There existed two powerful tendencies in the literature of the time, each of which was liable to excess when it operated alone, each of which needed to work in harmony with the other, and to take into itself something from the other— the tendency to realism, seen in such a poem as Crabbe's The Village, and the tendency towards romance, seen in its more extravagant forms in such writings as those of Matthew Gregory Lewis. Realism might easily have become hard, dry, literal, as we sometimes see it in Crabbe. Romance might easily have degenerated into a coarse revel in material horrors. English poetry needed, first, that romance should be saved and ennobled by the presence and the power of truth-truth moral and psychological; and secondly, that naturalism, without losing any of its fidelity to fact, should be saved and ennobled by the presence and the power of imagination—"the light that never was, on sea or land." This precisely was what Coleridge and
Wordsworth contributed to English poetry in their joint volume of Lyrical Ballads, which in consequence may justly be described as marking an epoch in the history of our literature.
The germ of Wordsworth's celebrated Preface to Lyrical Ballads, which sets forth his theory of poetic diction, will be found in the "Advertisement" of the present volume. The Preface appeared first in the edition of 1800; it was considerably enlarged in the edition of 1802. It is worth while perhaps to compare the statements made by Wordsworth as to his object in the poems as made in 1798, 1800, and 1802:
"The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure."-Advertisement, 1798.
"The principal object then which I proposed to
myself in these Poems was to make the incidents of common life interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement."-Preface, 1800.
"The principal object, then, which I proposed to myself in these Poems was to chuse incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men; and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way; and further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature; chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement."-Preface, 1802.
It is evident that Wordsworth was at first only in part conscious of his deeper, instinctive tendencies in writing these poems; it is evident that he only gradually discovered his full purpose. From the first, indeed, he had a crude notion of his theory of poetic diction, but this also was modified as he reviewed his own practice. In the Preface of 1800, while maintaining that the language of simple men is suitable for poetic uses, he qualifies the statement by adding that it must be “ purified from what appear to be its real defects, from all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust." In the Preface of 1802 he goes farther, and admits that the language will be "modified" by a consideration that the poet "describes for a particular purpose, that of giving pleasure." The poet makes a selection "with true taste and feeling" from "the language really spoken by men," and he modifies this in order to conduce to pleasure. These qualifications of Wordsworth have been