Biographia Literaria. Vol. I (1817), Chapter 1


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3   The motives of the present work -- Reception of 
4   the Author's first publication -- The discipline 
5   of his taste at school -- The effect of contem- 
6   porary writers on youthful minds -- Bowles's 
7   sonnets -- Comparison between the Poets before 
8   and since |Mr.| Pope. 

9   IT has been my lot to have had my 
10 name introduced both in conversation, and in 
11 print, more frequently than I find it easy to 
12 explain, whether I consider the fewness, unim- 
13 portance, and limited circulation of my writings, 
14 or the retirement and distance, in which I have 
15 lived, both from the literary and political world. 
16 Most often it has been connected with some 
17 charge, which I could not acknowledge, or 
18 some principle which I had never entertained. 
19 Nevertheless, had I had no other motive, or 
20 incitement, the reader would not have been 

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21 troubled with this exculpation. What my ad- 
22 ditional purposes were, will be seen in the fol- 
23 lowing pages. It will be found, that the least 
24 of what I have written concerns myself per- 
25 sonally. I have used the narration chiefly for 
26 the purpose of giving a continuity to the work, 
27 in part for the sake of the miscellaneous reflec- 
28 tions suggested to me by particular events, but 
29 still more as introductory to the statement of 
30 my principles in Politics, Religion, and Phi- 
31 losophy, and the application of the rules, dedu- 
32 ced from philosophical principles, to poetry and 
33 criticism. But of the objects, which I proposed 
34 to myself, it was not the least important to 
35 effect, as far as possible, a settlement of the 
36 long continued controversy concerning the true 
37 nature of poetic diction: and at the same time 
38 to define with the utmost impartiality the real
39 poetic character of the poet, by whose writings 
40 this controversy was first kindled, and has been 
41 since fuelled and fanned. 

42 In 1794, when I had barely passed the verge 
43 of manhood, I published a small volume of 
44 juvenile poems. They were received with a 
45 degree of favor, which, young as I was, I well 
46 knew, was bestowed on them not so much for 
47 any positive merit, as because they were consi- 
48 dered buds of hope, and promises of better 
49 works to come. The critics of that day, the 
50 most flattering, equally with the severest, [[con-]] 

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51 ||con||curred in objecting to them, obscurity, a general 
52 turgidness of diction, and a profusion of new 
53 coined double epithets.* The first is the fault 
54 which a writer is the least able to detect in 
55 his own compositions: and my mind was not 
56 then sufficiently disciplined to receive the au- 
57 thority of others, as a substitute for my own 
58 conviction. Satisfied that the thoughts, such as 
59 they were, could not have been expressed other- 
60 wise, or at least more perspicuously, I forgot 
61 to enquire, whether the thoughts themselves 

* The authority of Milton and Shakspeare may be use- 
fully pointed out to young authors. In the Comus, and earlier 
Poems of Milton there is a superfluity of double epithets; 
while in the Paradise Lost we find very few, in the Paradise 
Regained scarce any. The same remark holds almost equally 
true, of the Love's Labour Lost, Romeo and Juliet, Venus 
and Adonis, and Lucrece compared with the Lear, Macbeth, 
Othello, and Hamlet of our great Dramatist. The rule for 
the admission of double epithets seems to be this: either 
that they should be already denizens of our Language, such 
as blood-stained, terror-stricken, self-applauding: or when 
a new epithet, or one found in books only, is hazarded, that 
it, at least, be one word, not two words made one by mere 
virtue of the printer's hyphen. A language which, like the 
English, is almost without cases, is indeed in its very genius 
unfitted for compounds. If a writer, every time a com- 
pounded word suggests itself to him, would seek for some 
other mode of expressing the same sense, the chances are 
always greatly in favor of his finding a better word. "Tan- 
quam scopulum sic vites insolens verbum," is the wise advice 
of Cæsar to the Roman Orators, and the precept applies 
with double force to the writers in our own language. But 
it must not be forgotten, that the same Cæesar wrote a gram- 
matical treatise for the purpose of reforming the ordinary 
language by bringing it to a greater accordance with the 
principles of Logic or universal Grammar. 

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62 did not demand a degree of attention unsuitable 
63 to the nature and objects of poetry. This re- 
64 mark however applies chiefly, though not ex- 
65 clusively to the Religious Musings. The re- 
66 mainder of the charge I admitted to its full 
67 extent, and not without sincere acknowledg- 
68 ments to both my private and public censors 
69 for their friendly admonitions. In the after 
70 editions, I pruned the double epithets with no 
71 sparing hand, and used my best efforts to tame 
72 the swell and glitter both of thought and dic- 
73 tion; though in truth, these parasite plants of 
74 youthful poetry had insinuated themselves into 
75 my longer poems with such intricacy of union, 
76 that I was often obliged to omit disentangling 
77 the weed, from the fear of snapping the flower. 
78 From that period to the date of the present 
79 work I have published nothing, with my name, 
80 which could by any possibility have come be- 
81 fore the board of anonymous criticism. Even 
82 the three or four poems, printed with the works 
83 of a friend, as far as they were censured at all, 
84 were charged with the same or similar defects, 
85 though I am persuaded not with equal justice: 
86 with an EXCESS OF ORNAMENT, in addition to 
88 criticisms on the "Ancient Mariner," in the 
89 Monthly and Critical Reviews of the first volume 
90 of the Lyrical Ballads.) May I be permitted 
91 to add, that, even at the early period of my [[ju-]] 

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92 ||ju||venile poems, I saw and admitted the superior- 
93 ity of an austerer, and more natural style, with 
94 an insight not less clear, than I at present pos- 
95 sess. My judgment was stronger, than were 
96 my powers of realizing its dictates; and the 
97 faults of my language, though indeed partly 
98 owing to a wrong choice of subjects, and the 
99 desire of giving a poetic colouring to abstract 
100 and metaphysical truths in which a new world 
101 then seemed to open upon me, did yet, in part 
102 likewise, originate in unfeigned diffidence of my 
103 own comparative talent.--During several years 
104 of my youth and early manhood, I reverenced 
105 those, who had re-introduced the manly sim- 
106 plicity of the Grecian, and of our own elder 
107 poets, with such enthusiasm, as made the hope 
108 seem presumptuous of writing successfully in 
109 the same style. Perhaps a similar process has 
110 happened to others; but my earliest poems 
111 were marked by an ease and simplicity, which 
112 I have studied, perhaps with inferior success, 
113 to impress on my later compositions. 

114 At school I enjoyed the inestimable advan- 
115 tage of a very sensible, though at the same 
116 time, a very severe master. He* early moulded 
117 my taste to the preference of Demosthenes to 
118 Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to Virgil, 

*The Rev. James Bowyer, many years Head Master of 
the Grammar-School, Christ Hospital. 

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119 and again of Virgil to Ovid. He habituated 
120 me to compare Lucretius, (in such extracts as 
121 I then read) Terence, and above all the chaster 
122 poems of Catullus, not only with the Roman 
123 poets of the, so called, silver and brazen ages; 
124 but with even those of the Augustan era: and 
125 on grounds of plain sense and universal logic 
126 to see and assert the superiority of the former, in 
127 the truth and nativeness, both of their thoughts 
128 and diction. At the same time that we were 
129 studying the Greek Tragic Poets, he made us 
130 read Shakspeare and Milton as lessons: and 
131 they were the lessons too, which required most 
132 time and trouble to bring up, so as to escape 
133 his censure. I learnt from him, that Poetry, 
134 even that of the loftiest, and, seemingly, that of 
135 the wildest odes, had a logic of its own, as 
136 severe as that of science; and more difficult, 
137 because more subtle, more complex, and de- 
138 pendent on more, and more fugitive causes. 
139 In the truly great poets, he would say, there is 
140 a reason assignable, not only for every word, 
141 but for the position of every word; and I well 
142 remember, that availing himself of the syno- 
143 nimes to the Homer of Didymus, he made us 
144 attempt to show, with regard to each, why it 
145 would not have answered the same purpose; 
146 and wherein consisted the peculiar fitness of 
147 the word in the original text. 

148 In our own English compositions (at least for 

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149 the last three years of our school education) 
150 he showed no mercy to phrase, metaphor, or 
151 image, unsupported by a sound sense, or where 
152 the same sense might have been conveyed with 
153 equal force and dignity in plainer words. Lute, 
154 harp, and lyre, muse, muses, and inspirations, 
155 Pegasus, Parnassus, and Hipocrene, were all 
156 an abomination to him. In fancy I can almost 
157 hear him now, exclaiming" Harp? Harp? Lyre? 
158 Pen and ink, boy, you mean! Muse, boy, Muse? 
159 your Nurse's daughter, you mean! Pierian spring? 
160 Oh 'aye! the cloister-pump, I suppose!" Nay 
161 certain introductions, similies, and examples, 
162 were placed by name on a list of interdiction. 
163 Among the similies, there was, I remember, 
164 that of the Manchineel fruit, as suiting equally 
165 well with too many subjects; in which how- 
166 ever it yielded the palm at once to the example 
167 of Alexander and Clytus, which was equally 
168 good and apt, whatever might be the theme. 
169 Was it ambition? Alexander and Clytus!-- 
170 Flattery? Alexander and Clytus!--Anger ? 
171 Drunkenness? Pride? Friendship? Ingratitude? 
172 Late repentance? Still, still Alexander and 
173 Clytus! At length, the praises of agriculture 
174 having been exemplified in the sagacious obser- 
175 vation, that had Alexander been holding the 
176 plough, he would not have run his friend Clytus 
177 through with a spear, this tried, and serviceable 
178 old friend was banished by public edict in [[se-]] 

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179 ||se||cula seculorum. I have sometimes ventured to 
180 think, that a list of this kind, or an index expur- 
181 gatorius of certain well known and ever return- 
182 ing phrases, both introductory, and transitional, 
183 including the large assortment of modest ego- 
184 tisms, and flattering illeisms, |&c.| |&c.| might be 
185 hung up in our law-courts, and both houses of 
186 parliament, with great advantage to the public, 
187 as an important saving of national time, an in- 
188 calculable relief to his Majesty's ministers, but 
189 above all, as insuring the thanks of country 
190 attornies, and their clients, who have private 
191 bills to carry through the house. 

192 Be this as it may, there was one custom of 
193 our master's, which I cannot pass over in si- 
194 lence, because I think it imitable and worthy 
195 of imitation. He would often permit our theme 
196 exercises, under some pretext of want of time, 
197 to accumulate, till each lad had four or five to 
198 be looked over. Then placing the whole num- 
199 ber abreast on his desk, he would ask the 
200 writer, why this or that sentence might not 
201 have found as appropriate a place under this or 
202 that other thesis: and if no satisfying answer 
203 could be returned, and two faults of the same 
204 kind were found in one exercise, the irrevocable 
205 verdict followed, the exercise was torn up, and 
206 another on the same subject to be produced, 
207 in addition to the tasks of the day. The reader 
208 will, I trust, excuse this tribute of recollection 

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209 to a man, whose severities, even now, not sel- 
210 dom furnish the dreams, by which the blind 
211 fancy would fain interpret to the mind the pain- 
212 ful sensations of distempered sleep; but neither 
213 lessen nor dim the deep sense of my moral and 
214 intellectual obligations. He sent us to the Uni- 
215 versity excellent Latin and Greek scholars, and 
216 tolerable Hebraists. Yet our classical know- 
217 ledge was the least of the good gifts, which we 
218 derived from his zealous and conscientious 
219 tutorage. He is now gone to his final reward, 
220 full of years, and full of honors, even of those 
221 honors, which were dearest to his heart, as 
222 gratefully bestowed by that school, and still 
223 binding him to the interests of that school, in 
224 which he had been himself educated, and to 
225 which during his whole life he was a dedicated 
226 thing. 

227 From causes, which this is not the place to 
228 investigate, no models of past times, however 
229 perfect, can have the same vivid effect on the 
230 youthful mind, as the productions of contem- 
231 porary genius. The Discipline, my mind had 
232 undergone, "Ne falleretur rotundo sono et ver- 
233 suum cursu, cincinnis et floribus; sed ut inspi- 
234 ceret quidnam subesset, quæ sedes, quod firma- 
235 mentum, quis fundus verbis; an figuræ essent 
236 mera ornatura et orationis fucus: vel sanguinis 
237 e materiæ ipsius corde effluentis rubor quidam 
238 nativus et incalescentia genuina;" removed all 

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239 obstacles to the appreciation of excellence in 
240 style without diminishing my delight. That 
241 I was thus prepared for the perusal of |Mr.| 
242 Bowles's sonnets and earlier poems, at once 
243 increased their influence, and my enthusiasm. 
244 The great works of past ages seem to a young 
245 man things of another race, in respect to which 
246 his faculties must remain passive and submiss, 
247 even as to the stars and mountains. But the 
248 writings of a contemporary, perhaps not many 
249 years elder than himself, surrounded by the 
250 same circumstances, and disciplined by the 
251 same manners, possess a reality for him, and 
252 inspire an actual friendship as of a man for a 
253 man. His very admiration is the wind which 
254 fans and feeds his hope. The poems themselves 
255 assume the properties of flesh and blood. To 
256 recite, to extol, to contend for them is but the 
257 payment of a debt due to one, who exists to 
258 receive it. 

259 There are indeed modes of teaching which 
260 have produced, and are producing, youths of 
261 a very different stamp; modes of teaching, in 
262 comparison with which we have been called 
263 on to despise our great public schools, and 
264 universities 

265 "In whose halls are hung 
266 Armoury of the invincible knights of old"--

267 modes, by which children are to be metamor- 
268 phosed into prodigies. And prodigies with a 

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269 vengeance have I known thus produced! Pro- 
270 digies of self-conceit, shallowness, arrogance, 
271 and infidelity! Instead of storing the memory, 
272 during the period when the memory is the 
273 predominant faculty, with facts for the after 
274 exercise of the judgement; and instead of 
275 awakening by the noblest models the fond and 
276 unmixed LOVE and ADMIRATION, which is the 
277 natural and graceful temper of early youth; 
278 these nurselings of improved pedagogy are taught 
279 to dispute and decide; to suspect all, but their 
280 own and their lecturer's wisdom; and to hold 
281 nothing sacred from their contempt, but their 
282 own contemptible arrogance: boy-graduates in 
283 all the technicals, and in all the dirty passions 
284 and impudence, of anonymous criticism. To 
285 such dispositions alone can the admonition of 
286 Pliny be requisite, "Neque enim debet operi- 
287 "bus ejus obesse, quod vivit. An si inter eos, 
288 "quos nunquam vidimus, floruisset, non solum 
289 "libros ejus, verum etiam imagines conquire- 
290 "remus, ejusdem nunc honor præsentis, et gratia 
291 "quasi satietate languescet? At hoc pravum, 
292 "malignumque est, non admirari hominem admi- 
293 "ratione dignissimum, quia videre, complecti, 
294 "nec laudare tantum, verum etiam amare con- 
295 "tingit." Plin. Epist. Lib. I. 

296 I had just entered on my seventeenth year 
297 when the sonnets of |Mr.| Bowles, twenty in 
298 number, and just then published in a quarto 

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299 pamphlet, were first made known and pre- 
300 sented to me by a school-fellow who had 
301 quitted us for the University, and who, during 
302 the whole time that he was in our first form 
303 (or in our school language a GRECIAN) had 
304 been my patron and protector. I refer to |Dr.| 
305 Middleton, the truly learned, and every way 
306 excellent Bishop of Calcutta: 

307 "Qui laudibus amplis 
308 "Ingenium celebrare meum, calamumque solebat, 
309 "Calcar agens animo validum. Non omnia terræ 
310 "Obruta! Vivit amor, vivit dolor! Ora negatur 
311 "Dulcia conspicere; at flere et meminisse* relictum est." 
312 Petr. Ep. Lib. I. Ep. I. 

313 It was a double pleasure to me, and still 
314 remains a tender recollection, that I should 
315 have received from a friend so revered the first 
316 knowledge of a poet, by whose works, year 
317 after year, I was so enthusiastically delighted 
318 and inspired. My earliest acquaintances will 
319 not have forgotten the undisciplined eagerness 
320 and impetuous zeal, with which I laboured to 
321 make proselytes, not only of my companions, 
322 but of all with whom I conversed, of whatever 
323 rank, and in whatever place. As my school 

* I am most happy to have the necessity of informing the 
reader, that since this passage was written, the report of 
Middleton's death on his voyage to India has been proved 
erroneous. He lives and long may he live; for I dare pro- 
phecy, that with his life only will his exertions for the tem- 
poral and spiritual welfare of his fellow men be limited. 

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324 finances did not permit me to purchase copies, 
325 I made, within less than a year, and an half, 
326 more than forty transcriptions, as the best pre- 
327 sents I could offer to those, who had in any 
328 way won my regard. And with almost equal 
329 delight did I receive the three or four following 
330 publications of the same author. 

331 Though I have seen and known enough of 
332 mankind to be well aware, that I shall perhaps 
333 stand alone in my creed, and that it will be 
334 well, if I subject myself to no worse charge 
335 than that of singularity; I am not therefore 
336 deterred from avowing, that I regard, and ever 
337 have regarded the obligations of intellect among 
338 the most sacred of the claims of gratitude. 
339 A valuable thought, or a particular train of 
340 thoughts, gives me additional pleasure, when 
341 I can safely refer and attribute it to the con- 
342 versation or correspondence of another. My 
343 obligations to |Mr.| Bowles were indeed import- 
344 ant, and for radical good. At a very premature 
345 age, even before my fifteenth year, I had be- 
346 wildered myself in metaphysicks, and in theolo- 
347 gical controversy. Nothing else pleased me. 
348 History, and particular facts, lost all interest 
349 in my mind. Poetry (though for a school-boy 
350 of that age, I was above par in English versi- 
351 fication, and had already produced two or three 
352 compositions which, I may venture to say, with- 
353 out reference to my age, were somewhat above 

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354 mediocrity, and which had gained me more 
355 credit, than the sound, good sense of my old 
356 master was at all pleased with) poetry itself, 
357 yea novels and romances, became insipid to 
358 me. In my friendless wanderings on our leave-* 
359 days, (for I was an orphan, and had scarce 
360 any connections in London) highly was I de- 
361 lighted, if any passenger, especially if he were 
362 drest in black, would enter into conversation 
363 with me. For I soon found the means of di- 
364 recting it to my favorite subjects

365 Of providence, fore-knowledge, will, and fate, 
366 Fix'd fate, free will, fore-knowledge absolute, 
367 And found no end in wandering mazes lost. 

368 This preposterous pursuit was, beyond doubt, 
369 injurious, both to my natural powers, and to 
370 the progress of my education. It would per- 
371 haps have been destructive, had it been con- 
372 tinued; but from this I was auspiciously with- 
373 drawn, partly indeed by an accidental intro- 
374 duction to an amiable family, chiefly however, 
375 by the genial influence of a style of poetry, so 
376 tender, and yet so manly, so natural and real, 
377 and yet so dignified, and harmonious, as the 
378 sonnets, |&c.| of |Mr.| Bowles! Well were it for 
379 me perhaps, had I never relapsed into the same 

* The Christ Hospital phrase, not for holidays altogether, 
but for those on which the boys are permitted to go beyond 
the precincts of the school. 

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380 mental disease; if I had continued to pluck 
381 the flower and reap the harvest from the cul- 
382 tivated surface, instead of delving in the un- 
383 wholesome quicksilver mines of metaphysic 
384 depths. But if in after time I have sought a 
385 refuge from bodily pain and mismanaged sen- 
386 sibility in abstruse researches, which exercised 
387 the strength and subtlety of the understanding 
388 without awakening the feelings of the heart; 
389 still there was a long and blessed interval, dur- 
390 ing which my natural faculties were allowed 
391 to expand, and my original tendencies to deve- 
392 lope themselves: my fancy, and the love of 
393 nature, and the sense of beauty in forms and 
394 sounds. 

395 The second advantage, which I owe to my 
396 early perusal, and admiration of these poems 
397 (to which let me add, though known to me 
398 at a somewhat later period, the Lewsdon Hill 
399 of |Mr.| CROW) bears more immediately on my 
400 present subject. Among those with whom I 
401 conversed, there were, of course, very many 
402 who had formed their taste, and their notions 
403 of poetry, from the writings of |Mr.| Pope and 
404 his followers: or to speak more generally, in 
405 that school of French poetry, condensed and 
406 invigorated by English understanding, which 
407 had predominated from the last century. I 
408 was not blind to the merits of this school, yet 
409 as from inexperience of the world, and [[conse-]] 

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410 ||conse||quent want of sympathy with the general sub- 
411 jects of these poems, they gave me little plea- 
412 sure, I doubtless undervalued the kind, and 
413 with the presumption of youth withheld from 
414 its masters the legitimate name of poets. I 
415 saw, that the excellence of this kind consisted 
416 in just and acute observations on men and man- 
417 ners in an artificial state of society, as its matter and 
418 substance: and in the logic of wit, con- 
419 veyed in smooth and strong epigramatic cou- 
420 plets, as its form. Even when the subject was 
421 addressed to the fancy, or the intellect, as in 
422 the Rape of the Lock, or the Essay on Man; 
423 nay, when it was a consecutive narration, as in 
424 that astonishing product of matchless talent 
425 and ingenuity, Pope's Translation of the Iliad; 
426 still a point was looked for at the end of each 
427 second line, and the whole was as it were a 
428 sorites, or, if I may exchange a logical for a 
429 grammatical metaphor, a conjunction disjunc-
430 tive, of epigrams. Meantime the matter and 
431 diction seemed to me characterized not so much 
432 by poetic thoughts, as by thoughts translated 
433 into the language of poetry. On this last point, 
434 I had occasion to render my own thoughts 
435 gradually more and more plain to myself, by 
436 frequent amicable disputes concerning Darwin's 
437 BOTANIC GARDEN, which, for some years, was 
438 greatly extolled, not only by the reading public 
439 in general, but even by those, whose genius 

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440 and natural robustness of understanding ena- 
441 bled them afterwards to act foremost in dis- 
442 sipating these "painted mists" that occasionally 
443 rise from the marshes at the foot of Parnassus. 
444 During my first Cambridge vacation, I assisted 
445 a friend in a contribution for a literary society 
446 in Devonshire: and in this I remember to have 
447 compared Darwin's work to the Russian pa- 
448 lace of ice, glittering, cold and transitory. In 
449 the same essay too, I assigned sundry reasons, 
450 chiefly drawn from a comparison of passages in 
451 the Latin poets with the original Greek, from 
452 which they were borrowed, for the preference 
453 of Collins's odes to those of Gray; and of the 
454 simile in Shakspeare

455 " How like a younker or a prodigal, 
456 "The skarfed bark puts from her native bay 
457 "Hugg'd and embraced by the strumpet wind! 
458 "How like a prodigal doth she return, 
459 "With over-weather'd ribs and ragged sails, 
460 "Lean, rent, and beggar'd by the strumpet wind!" 

461 to the imitation in the bard;

462 "Fair laughs the morn, and soft the zephyr blows 
463 "While proudly riding o'er the azure realm 
464 "In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes, 
465 "YOUTH at the prow and PLEASURE at the helm, 
466 "Regardless of the sweeping whirlwinds sway, 
467 "That hush'd in grim repose, expects it's evening prey." 

468 (In which, by the bye, the words "realm" and 
469 " sway" are rhymes dearly purchased.) I pre- 
470 ferred the original on the ground, that in the 

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471 imitation it depended wholly in the composi- 
472 tor's putting, or not putting a small Capital, 
473 both in this, and in many other passages of the 
474 same poet, whether the words should be person- 
475 ifications, or mere abstracts. I mention this, 
476 because in referring various lines in Gray to 
477 their original in Shakspeare and Milton; and in 
478 the clear perception how completely all the 
479 propriety was lost in the transfer; I was, at 
480 that early period, led to a conjecture, which, 
481 many years afterwards was recalled to me from 
482 the same thought having been started in con- 
483 versation, but far more ably, and developed 
484 more fully, by |Mr.| WORDSWORTH; namely, that 
485 this style of poetry, which I have characterised 
486 above, as translations of prose thoughts into 
487 poetic language, had been kept up by, if it did 
488 not wholly arise from, the custom of writing 
489 Latin verses, and the great importance at- 
490 tached to these exercises, in our public schools. 
491 Whatever might have been the case in the fif- 
492 teenth century, when the use of the Latin 
493 tongue was so general among learned men, that 
494 Erasmus is said to have forgotten his native 
495 language; yet in the present day it is not to be 
496 supposed, that a youth can think in Latin, or 
497 that he can have any other reliance on the force 
498 or fitness of his phrases, but the authority of 
499 the author from whence he has adopted them. 
500 Consequently he must first prepare his thoughts, 

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501 and then pick out, from Virgil, Horace, Ovid, or 
502 perhaps more compendiously from his* Gradus, 
503 halves and quarters of lines, in which to embody 
504 them. 

505 I never object to a certain degree of disputa- 
506 tiousness in a young man from the age of seven- 
507 teen to that of four or five and twenty, provided 
508 I find him always arguing on one side of the 
509 question. The controversies, occasioned by my 
510 unfeigned zeal for the honor of a favorite con- 
511 temporary, then known to me only by his works, 
512 were of great advantage in the formation and 
513 establishment of my taste and critical opinions. 
514 In my defence of the lines running into each 
515 other, instead of closing at each couplet; and 
516 of natural language, neither bookish, nor vulgar, 
517 neither redolent of the lamp, or of the kennel, 
518 such as I will remember thee; instead of the 
519 same thought tricked up in the rag-fair finery of,

520 ----Thy image on her wing 
521 Before my FANCY'S eye shall MEMORY bring,

522 I had continually to adduce the metre and 

* In the Nutricia of Politian there occurs this line:

" Pura coloratos interstrepit unda lapillos." 
Casting my eye on a University prize-poem, I met this line, 
" Lactea purpureos interstrepit unda lapillos."
Now look out in the Gradus for Purus, and you find as 
the first synonime, lacteus; for coloratus and the first sy- 
nonime is purpureus. I mention this by way of elucidating 
one of the most ordinary processes in the ferrumination of 
these centos. 


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523 diction of the Greek Poets from Homer to 
524 Theocritus inclusive; and still more of our 
525 elder English poets from Chaucer to Milton. 
526 Nor was this all. But as it was my constant 
527 reply to authorities brought against me from 
528 later poets of great name, that no authority 
529 could avail in opposition to TRUTH, NATURE, 
531 actuated too by my former passion for meta- 
532 physical investigations; I labored at a solid 
533 foundation, on which permanently to ground 
534 my opinions, in the component faculties of the 
535 human mind itself, and their comparative dig- 
536 nity and importance. According to the faculty 
537 or source, from which the pleasure given by 
538 any poem or passage was derived, I estimated 
539 the merit of such poem or passage. As the 
540 result of all my reading and meditation, I ab- 
541 stracted two critical aphorisms, deeming them 
542 to comprize the conditions and criteria of poetic 
543 style; first, that not the poem which we have
544 read, but that to which we return, with the 
545 greatest pleasure, possesses the genuine power, 
546 and claims the name of essential poetry. Second, 
547 that whatever lines can be translated into other 
548 words of the same language, without dimi- 
549 nution of their significance, either in sense, 
550 or association, or in any worthy feeling, are 
551 so far vicious in their diction. Be it however 
552 observed, that I excluded from the list of [[wor-]] 

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553 ||wor||thy feelings, the pleasure derived from mere 
554 novelty, in the reader, and the desire of ex- 
555 citing wonderment at his powers in the author. 
556 Oftentimes since then, in perusing French tra- 
557 gedies, I have fancied two marks of admiration 
558 at the end of each line, as hieroglyphics of the 
559 author's own admiration at his own cleverness. 
560 Our genuine admiration of a great poet is a 
561 continuous under-current of feeling; it is every 
562 where present, but seldom any where as a se- 
563 parate excitement. I was wont boldly to affirm, 
564 that it would be scarcely more difficult to push 
565 a stone out from the pyramids with the bare 
566 hand, than to alter a word, or the position of a 
567 word, in Milton or Shakspeare, (in their most 
568 important works at least) without making the 
569 author say something else, or something worse, 
570 than he does say. One great distinction, I 
571 appeared to myself to see plainly, between, even 
572 the characteristic faults of our elder poets, and 
573 the false beauty of the moderns. In the former, from 
574 DONNE to COWLEY, we find the most fan- 
575 tastic out-of-the-way thoughts, but in the most 
576 pure and genuine mother English; in the latter, 
577 the most obvious thoughts, in language the 
578 most fantastic and arbitrary. Our faulty elder 
579 poets sacrificed the passion, and passionate 
580 flow of poetry, to the subtleties of intellect, and 
581 to the starts of wit; the moderns to the glare 
582 and glitter of a perpetual, yet broken and [[hete-]] 

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583 ||hete||rogeneous imagery, or rather to an amphibious 
584 something, made up, half of image, and half of 
585 abstract* meaning. The one sacrificed the heart 
586 to the head; the other both heart and head to 
587 point and drapery. 

588 The reader must make himself acquainted 
589 with the general style of composition that was 
590 at that time deemed poetry, in order to under- 
591 stand and account for the effect produced on 
592 me by the SONNETS, the MONODY at MATLOCK, 
593 and the HOPE, of |Mr.| Bowles; for it is pecu- 
594 liar to original genius to become less and less 
595 striking, in proportion to its success in improv- 
596 ing the taste and judgement of its contempora- 
597 ries. The poems of WEST indeed had the 
598 merit of chaste and manly diction, but they 
599 were cold, and, if I may so express it, only
600 dead-coloured; while in the best of Warton's 
601 there is a stiffness, which too often gives them 
602 the appearance of imitations from the Greek. 
603 Whatever relation therefore of cause or impulse 
604 Percy's collection of Ballads may bear to the 
605 most popular poems of the present day; yet in 
606 the more sustained and elevated style, of the 

* I remember a ludicrous instance in the poem of a young 

" No more will I endure love's pleasing pain, 
Or round my heart's leg tie his galling chain."

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607 then living poets Bowles and Cowper* were, to 
608 the best of my knowledge, the first who com- 
609 bined natural thoughts with natural diction; 
610 the first who reconciled the heart with the head. 

611 It is true, as I have before mentioned, that 
612 from diffidence in my own powers, I for a short 
613 time adopted a laborious and florid diction, 
614 which I myself deemed, if not absolutely vici- 
615 ous, yet of very inferior worth. Gradually, 
616 however, my practice conformed to my better 
617 judgement; and the compositions of my twenty- 
618 fourth and twenty-fifth year (ex. gr. the shorter 
619 blank verse poems, the lines which are now 
620 adopted in the introductory part of the VISION 
621 in the present collection in |Mr.| Southey's Joan 
622 of Arc, 2nd book, 1st edition, and the Tragedy 
623 of REMORSE) are not more below my present 
624 ideal in respect of the general tissue of the style, 
625 than those of the latest date. Their faults were 

* Cowper's task was published some time before the son- 
nets of |Mr.| Bowles; but I was not familiar with it till many 
years afterwards. The vein of Satire which runs through 
that excellent poem, together with the sombre hue of its re- 
ligious opinions, would probably, at that time, have pre- 
vented its laying any strong hold on my affections. The 
love of nature seems to have led Thompson to a chearful re- 
ligion; and a gloomy religion to have led Cowper to a love 
of nature. The one would carry his fellow-men along with 
him into nature; the other flies to nature from his fellow- 
men. In chastity of diction however, and the harmony of 
blank verse, Cowper leaves Thompson unmeasureably below 
him; yet still I feel the latter to have been the born poet. 

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626 at least a remnant of the former leaven, and 
627 among the many who have done me the honor 
628 of putting my poems in the same class with 
629 those of my betters, the one or two, who have 
630 pretended to bring examples of affected sim- 
631 plicity from my volume, have been able to ad- 
632 duce but one instance, and that out of a copy 
633 of verses half ludicrous, half splenetic, which 
634 I intended, and had myself characterized, as 
635 sermoni propriora. 

636 Every reform, however necessary, will by 
637 weak minds be carried to an excess, that itself 
638 will need reforming. The reader will excuse 
639 me for noticing, that I myself was the {fi}rst to 
640 expose risu honesto the three sins of poetry, one 
641 or the other of which is the most likely to beset 
642 a young writer. So long ago as the publica- 
643 tion of the second number of the monthly ma- 
644 gazine, under the name of NEHEMIAH HIGGEN- 
645 BOTTOM I contributed three sonnets, the first of 
646 which had for its object to excite a good-natur- 
647 ed laugh at the spirit of doleful egotism, and at 
648 the recurrence of favorite phrases, with the 
649 double defect of being at once trite, and licen- 
650 tious. The second, on low, creeping language 
651 and thoughts, under the pretence of simplicity. 
652 And the third, the phrases of which were bor- 
653 rowed entirely from my own poems, on the 
654 indiscriminate use of elaborate and swelling 

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655 language and imagery. The reader will find 
656 them in the note* below, and will I trust regard 
657 them as reprinted for biographical purposes, 
658 and not for their poetic merits. So general at


* PENSIVE at eve, on the hard world I mused, 
And my poor heart was sad; so at the MOON 
I gazed, and sighed, and sighed; for ah how soon 
Eve saddens into night! mine eyes perused 
With tearful vacancy the dampy grass 
That wept and glitter'd in the paly ray: 
And I did pause me, on my lonely way 
And mused me, on the wretched ones that pass 
O'er the bleak heath of sorrow. But alas! 
Most of myself I thought! when it befel, 
That the soothe spirit of the breezy wood 
Breath'd in mine ear: "All this is very well 
But much of ONE thing, is for NO thing good." 
Oh my poor heart's INEXPLICABLE SWELL! 


OH I do love thee, meek SIMPLICITY! 
For of thy lays the lulling simpleness 
Goes to my heart, and soothes each small distress, 
Distress tho' small, yet haply great to me, 
'Tis true on Lady Fortune's gentlest pad 
I amble on; and yet I know not why 
So sad I am! but should a friend and I 
Frown, pout and part, then I am very sad. 
And then with sonnets and with sympathy 
My dreamy bosom's mystic woes I pall; 
Now of my false friend plaining plaintively, 
Now raving at mankind in general; 
But whether sad or fierce, 'tis simple all, 
All very simple, meek SIMPLICITY! 


AND this reft house is that, the which he built, 
Lamented Jack! and here his malt he pil'd, 
Cautious in vain! these rats, that squeak so wild, 
Squeak not unconscious of their father's guilt. 
Did he not see her gleaming thro' the glade! 
Belike 'twas she, the maiden all forlorn. 
What tho' she milk no cow with crumpled horn, 
Yet, aye she haunts the dale where erst she stray'd:*

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659 that time, and so decided was the opinion con- 
660 cerning the characteristic vices of my style, that 
661 a celebrated physician (now, alas! no more) 
662 speaking of me in other respects with his usual 
663 kindness to a gentleman, who was about to 
664 meet me at a dinner party, could not however 
665 resist giving him a hint not to mention the
666 " House that Jack built" in my presence, for 
667 " that I was as sore as a boil about that sonnet ;" 
668 he not knowing, that I was myself the author 
669 of it. 

And aye, beside her stalks her amarous knight! 
Still on his thighs their wonted brogues are worn, 
And thro' those brogues, still tatter'd and betorn, 
His hindward charms glean an unearthly white. 
Ah! thus thro' broken clouds at night's high Noon 
Peeps in fair fragments forth the full-orb'd harvest-moon! 

The following anecdote will not be wholly out of place 
here, and may perhaps amuse the reader. An amateur per- 
former in verse expressed to a common friend, a strong de- 
sire to be introduced to me, but hesitated in accepting my 
friend's immediate offer, on the score that "he was, he must 
acknowledge the author of a confounded severe epigram on 
my ancient mariner, which had given me great pain. I as- 
sured my friend that if the epigram was a good one, it would 
only increase my desire to become acquainted with the au- 
thor, and begg'd to hear it recited: when, to my no less 
surprise than amusement, it proved to be one which I had 
myself some time before written and inserted in the Morning 

To the author of the Ancient Mariner. 

Your poem must eternal be, 
Dear-sir! it cannot fail, 
For 'tis incomprehensible 
And without head or tail.