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A Solemn and Unsexual Man

Colin Burrow: Parson Wordsworth, 4 July 2019

Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years 
by Nicholas Roe.
Oxford, 352 pp., £25, November 2018, 978 0 19 881811 3
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Wordsworth’s Fun 
by Matthew Bevis.
Chicago, 264 pp., £22, September 2019, 978 0 226 65219 1
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... Wordsworth​ was the first poet I fell in love with as a teenager. My English teacher (who preferred Pope and Henry James) mocked me for my taste, reminding me of Shelley’s description of Wordsworth in ‘Peter Bell the Third’ as ‘a solemn and unsexual man’. Never afraid of being thought either solemn or unsexual I persevered, and even persuaded my history teacher to allow me to do an extended A-Level essay on Wordsworth’s political beliefs ...

Benevolent Mr Godwin

E.P. Thompson, 8 July 1993

Political Justice 
by William Godwin, introduced by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Woodstock, £150, November 1992, 1 85196 019 8
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The Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin 
edited by Mark Philp.
Pickering & Chatto, £395, March 1993, 1 85196 026 0
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Political Writings 
by Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by Janet Todd.
Pickering & Chatto, 411 pp., £39.95, March 1993, 1 85196 019 8
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Memoirs of Wollstonecraft 
by William Godwin, introduced by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Woodstock, 199 pp., £8.95, April 1993, 1 85477 125 6
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... facsimile of the quarto first edition of Political Justice (1793) in the series edited by Jonathan Wordsworth for Woodstock Books. This series makes available facsimiles of works which were significant to the Romantic poets, and in particular to Wordsworth and Coleridge. Jonathan ...

Spaced

Michael Neve, 3 September 1981

The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas de Quincey 
by Grevel Lindop.
Dent, 433 pp., £12, July 1981, 0 460 04358 7
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... and disdain. Thomas, who seemed small and effeminate, particularly beside his fierce brother William, was bound in early life to seek for love elsewhere: in a landscape, or in literature. It is, one might say, the old story. When the father died, his family became itinerant, shepherded by the cold mother. They went to Bath, where Thomas started to reveal ...

Silly Willy

Jonathan Bate, 25 April 1991

William Blake: His Life 
by James King.
Weidenfeld, 263 pp., £25, March 1991, 0 297 81160 6
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... To write well about William Blake you need to be enthusiastic, aphoristic and contrary. It also helps to be slightly mad. You need to begin your book with a paragraph like this: When Blake spoke the first word of the 19th century there was no one to hear it, and now that his message, the message of emancipation from reality through the ‘shaping spirit of imagination’, has penetrated the world, and is slowly remaking it, few are conscious of the first utterer, in modern times, of the message with which all are familiar ...

Sisters come second

Dinah Birch: Siblings, 26 April 2012

Thicker than Water: Siblings and Their Relations 1780-1920 
by Leonore Davidoff.
Oxford, 449 pp., £35, November 2011, 978 0 19 954648 0
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... the richest store of information. Two, the Gladstones and the Freuds, are investigated in detail. William Gladstone’s sister Helen was a misfit who rejected the obligations of female usefulness and became addicted to opiates. Her rebellion then took a religious turn, as she transferred the obedience she might have been expected to owe her male relations to ...

Lost Youth

Nicholson Baker, 9 June 1994

The Folding Star 
by Alan Hollinghurst.
Chatto, 422 pp., £15.99, May 1994, 0 7011 5913 8
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... of the tradition of pastoral elegy and rustic reflection as it works its way down through Milton, William Collins, Wordsworth and Shelley all the way to the fictional Georgian poet ‘Sir Perry Dawlish’, is accomplished with astonishing ease and plausibility in The Folding Star. In one scene, the adolescent Edward waits ...

Malvolio’s Story

Marilyn Butler, 8 February 1996

Dirt and Deity: A Life of Robert Burns 
by Ian McIntyre.
HarperCollins, 461 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 00 215964 3
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... In ‘Resolution and Independence’, that great but mysterious poem, Wordsworth describes himself walking out on a moist, brilliant May morning. He is about to experience one of the numinous encounters for which he is famous – with another solitary walker, a derelict old man who makes his living gathering leeches from moorland ponds ...

Deleecious

Matthew Bevis: William Hazlitt, 6 November 2008

New Writings of William Hazlitt: Volume I 
edited by Duncan Wu.
Oxford, 507 pp., £120, September 2007, 978 0 19 923573 5
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New Writings of William Hazlitt: Volume II 
edited by Duncan Wu.
Oxford, 553 pp., £120, September 2007, 978 0 19 923574 2
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William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man 
by Duncan Wu.
Oxford, 557 pp., £25, October 2008, 978 0 19 954958 0
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... just when he’s talking about the physical prowess of fives players, Indian jugglers or boxers. Wordsworth’s voice, for instance, is described as having ‘a strong tincture of the northern burr, like the crust on wine’. Hazlitt often invites us to see voices, because gusto in his prose is primarily effected by the relation between eye and ear, by our ...

In Praise of Vagueness

Richard Poirier, 14 December 1995

Henry James and the Art of Non-Fiction 
by Tony Tanner.
Georgia, 92 pp., £20.50, May 1995, 9780820316895
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... the implications it takes in Principles of Psychology, the massive first book by Henry’s brother William, regarded by R.W.B. Lewis and others as one of the singular achievements in American writing of the 19th century. Principles never systematically or for long directly addresses the issues of language and style. When it does do so, however, it is with an ...

In Flesh-Coloured Silk

Seamus Perry: Romanticism, 4 December 2003

Metaromanticism: Aesthetics, Literature, Theory 
by Paul Hamilton.
Chicago, 316 pp., £17.50, August 2003, 0 226 31480 4
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... own ideal’. A large part of Coleridge warmly approved of such sublime egotism, and he saw it in Wordsworth, a poet superbly ensconced in ‘the dread watch-tower of man’s absolute self’. As Frank Kermode argued in Romantic Image (1957), it is really not so large a step from the solitary tower of the Wordsworthian ego to the lonely tower of high ...

Why edit socially?

Marilyn Butler, 20 October 1994

Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, Vol. VII 
edited by Byron.
Oxford, 445 pp., £52.50, March 1993, 0 19 812328 0
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The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse 
edited by Jerome McGann.
Oxford, 832 pp., £25, April 1993, 0 19 214158 9
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... same league as the DNB or OED. Old Romantic hands might be tempted to look up ‘Rousseau’ or ‘Wordsworth’, but to test this edition with the name of another established writer would be to show you didn’t know what McGann stands for. Warm up, if you must, on ‘Great Britain’, ‘France’ and ‘Greece’. But a social edition, as McGann has ...

Out of Bounds

Ian Gilmour: Why Wordsworth sold a lot less than Byron, 20 January 2005

The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period 
by William St Clair.
Cambridge, 765 pp., £90, July 2004, 9780521810067
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... of which British poets should be honoured by inclusion in the book. Such behaviour, as William St Clair amply demonstrates in his magnificent, original and compelling study, was characteristic of the London publishers. His book stretches far wider than its title suggests. He has a mass of new and fascinating things to say about the centuries that ...

Bigger Peaches

Rosemary Hill: Haydon, 22 February 2001

The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 1817 
by Penelope Hughes-Hallett.
Viking, 336 pp., £15.99, September 2000, 0 670 87999 1
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... all, like him, mostly self-educated and chronically short of money. Haydon had also come to know Wordsworth, who was in London in December 1817. On the 28th Haydon invited him to dinner to meet Keats. Charles Lamb was there. Hazlitt, who had attacked Wordsworth in print, was not invited. Nor were the Leigh Hunts, for ...

Balloons and Counter-Balloons

Susan Eilenberg: ‘The Age of Wonder’, 7 January 2010

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science 
by Richard Holmes.
HarperPress, 380 pp., £9.99, September 2009, 978 0 00 714953 7
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... the Endeavour in the late 1760s and Charles Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos in the 1830s. William and Caroline Herschel’s advances in astronomy and Humphry Davy’s in chemistry dominate both Holmes’s history and the period itself, but Holmes is interested too in John Herschel, William’s son, who nearly became ...

Floating Hair v. Blue Pencil

Frank Kermode, 6 June 1996

Revision and Romantic Authorship 
by Zachary Leader.
Oxford, 354 pp., £40, March 1996, 0 19 812264 0
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... make it comply with a different self-image – that makes it difficult to decide what to do with Wordsworth, another keen reviser, and a more difficult case than Yeats. The Prelude, for instance, remained in manuscript, indeed in a good many variant manuscripts, until after his death. This multiplicity creates all sorts of problems, and they are among the ...

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