Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1798)





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1   It is the honourable characteristic of Poetry that 
2   its materials are to be found in every subject 
3   which can interest the human mind. The evi-
4   dence of this fact is to be sought, not in the 
5   writings of Critics, but in those of Poets them-
6   selves. 

7   The majority of the following poems are to be 
8   considered as experiments. They were written 
9   chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the lan-
10 guage of conversation in the middle and lower 
11 classes of society is adapted to the purposes of 
12 poetic pleasure. Readers accustomed to the 

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13 gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern 
14 writers, if they persist in reading this book to its 
15 conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to 
16 struggle with feelings of strangeness and auk-
17 wardness: they will look round for poetry, and 
18 will be induced to enquire by what species of 
19 courtesy these attempts can be permitted to 
20 assume that title. It is desirable that such 
21 readers, for their own sakes, should not suffer 
22 the solitary word Poetry, a word of very disputed 
23 meaning, to stand in the way of their gratifica-
24 tion; but that, while they are perusing this 
25 book, they should ask themselves if it contains a 
26 natural delineation of human passions, human 
27 characters, and human incidents; and if the 
28 answer be favorable to the author's wishes, that they 
29 should consent to be pleased in spite of that 
30 most dreadful enemy to our pleasures, our own 
31 pre-established codes of decision. 

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32 Readers of superior judgment may disapprove of the 
33 style in which many of these pieces are execu-
34 ted it must be expected that many lines and phra-
35 ses will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps 
36 appear to them, that wishing to avoid the pre-
37 valent fault of the day, the author has sometimes 
38 descended too low, and that many of his expres-
39 sions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dig-
40 nity. It is apprehended, that the more con-
41 versant the reader is with our elder writers, and 
42 with those in modern times who have been the 
43 most successful in painting manners and passions, 
44 the fewer complaints of this kind will he have 
45 to make. 

46 An accurate taste in poetry, and in all the other 
47arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, is an 
48 acquired talent, which can only be produced by 
49 severe thought, and a long continued intercourse 
50 with the best models of composition. This is 

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51 mentioned not with so ridiculous a purpose 
52 as to prevent the most inexperienced reader 
53 from judging for himself; but merely to temper 
54 the rashness of decision, and to suggest that if 
55 poetry be a subject on which much time has not 
56 been bestowed, the judgment may be erroneous, 
57 and that in many cases it necessarily will be so. 

58 The tale of Goody Blake and Harry Gill is 
59 founded on a well-authenticated fact which hap-
60 pened in Warwickshire. Of the other poems in 
61 the collection, it may be proper to say that they 
62 are either absolute inventions of the author, or 
63 facts which took place within his personal obser-
64 vation or that of his friends. The poem of the 
65 Thorn, as the reader will soon discover, is not 
66 supposed to be spoken in the author's own per-
67 son: the character of the loquacious narrator will 
68 sufficiently shew itself in the course of the story. 
69 The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere was profes-

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70 sedly written in imitation of the style, as well as 
71 of the spirit, of the elder poets; but with a few 
72 exceptions, the Author believes that the lan-
73 guage adopted in it has been equally intelligible 
74 or these three last centuries. The lines entitled 
75 Expostulation and Reply, and those which 
76 follow, arose out of conversation with a friend 
77 who was somewhat unreasonably attached to 
78 modern books of moral philosophy. 


Copytext: Lyrical Ballads (1798).
Source: Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems. London: Printed for J. and A. Arch, 1798.
Ed. (text): Ian Lancashire, Rep. Criticism On-line (1996).

Editorial Conventions

This edition does not encode signatures, page numbers, or catchwords. Old spelling is retained except for ligatured letters, which are normalized. Contractions and abbreviations are placed within vertical bars. Italics and lineation are retained, but not small capitals and the text of catchwords, signatures, and running titles. Original lineation is maintained. Reference citations are by page numbers and editorial through-text paragraph and line numbers.