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A Regular Bull

Christopher Hitchens, 31 July 1997

Whittaker Chambers: A Biography 
by Sam Tanenhaus.
Random House, 640 pp., $35, February 1997, 0 394 58559 3
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... Bellow replied that his study had been English literature. He was asked to give his opinion of William Wordsworth as a poet. He responded that he had always thought of William Wordsworth as one of the Romantics. ‘There is no place for you,’ said Chambers on hearing this, ‘in this organisation.’ The ...

Three feet on the ground

Marilyn Butler, 7 July 1983

William WordsworthThe Borders of Vision 
by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Oxford, 496 pp., £25, February 1983, 0 19 812097 4
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William WordsworthThe Poetry of Grandeur and of Tenderness 
by David Pirie.
Methuen, 301 pp., £14.95, March 1982, 0 416 31300 0
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Benjamin the Waggoner 
by William Wordsworth, edited by Paul Betz.
Cornell/Harvester, 356 pp., £40, September 1981, 0 85527 513 8
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... One evening, declares Jonathan Wordsworth as he begins his new critical book, a poet happened to be walking along a road, when the peasant who was with him pointed out a striking sight:         ’Twas a horse, that stood Alone upon a little breast of ground With a clear silver moonlight sky behind. With one leg from the ground the creature stood, Insensible and still; breath, motion gone, Hairs, colour, all but shape and substance gone, Mane, ears, and tail, as lifeless as the trunk That had no stir of breath ...

Miss Simpson stayed to tea

Philippa Tristram, 20 April 1989

William WordsworthA Life 
by Stephen Gill.
Oxford, 525 pp., £17.50, March 1989, 0 19 812828 2
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... a particular problem where interpretation has already been shaped by his subject in autobiography. Wordsworth was not the only writer of his period to dislike the public appetite for private information, or to seek to forestall the biographer’s ‘abominable use’ of letters and personal anecdote by trying himself to control what should, and should not, be ...

Her eyes were wild

John Bayley, 2 May 1985

Letters of Dorothy WordsworthA Selection 
edited by Alan Hill.
Oxford, 200 pp., £9.95, March 1985, 0 19 818539 1
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Dorothy Wordsworth 
by Robert Gittings and Jo Manton.
Oxford, 318 pp., £12.50, March 1985, 0 19 818519 7
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The Pedlar, Tintern Abbey, The Two-Part Prelude 
by William Wordsworth, edited by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Cambridge, 76 pp., £7.95, January 1985, 0 521 26526 6
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The Ruined Cottage, The Brothers, Michael 
by William Wordsworth, edited by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Cambridge, 82 pp., £7.95, January 1985, 0 521 26525 8
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... Wordsworth’s genius lay in its own sort of negative capability. The most striking feature of his poetry, as of his personality, is their intense and intimate relations with what always remained outside them. He never seems identified with his own discoveries, even with the drama of his own sensibility. Yet what he writes is subtly and comfortingly self-confirmatory, never more so than when the world, the human heart, the music of humanity, the mountains, are speaking to him (‘as if admonished from another world’, ‘To give me human strength by apt admonishment ...

Wordsworth in Love

Jonathan Wordsworth, 15 October 1981

... Shelley, Keats. Among the older generation, Blake and Coleridge might be a little more difficult. Wordsworth for most would be impossible. To Shelley he seemed ‘a solemn and unsexual man’ (‘Peter Bell the Third’), and even the revelation early in this century that he had a French girlfriend, and French illegitimate daughter, has not altered the stuffy ...

In the Turner Gallery

Peter Campbell: Coleridge’s Note-Taking, 26 February 2009

... In the first volume of his Coleridge biography, Richard Holmes describes Coleridge and Dorothy and William Wordsworth working ‘like plein-air painters, taking elaborate notes on the varied effects of light on the landscape, of plants and water, of wind and cloud and starlight’. They were under surveillance, suspected of Jacobin sympathies ...

Wordsworth’s Crisis

E.P. Thompson, 8 December 1988

Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years 
by Nicholas Roe.
Oxford, 306 pp., £27.50, March 1988, 0 19 812868 1
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... I am of that odious class of men called democrats,’ Wordsworth wrote to his friend William Mathews in 1794. Much the same can be said of Coleridge, on the evidence of his letters and publications of the mid-1790s. By the early decades of this century, British, French and American scholarship concurred in finding both poets to be, in the 1790s, republicans and advanced reformers, who then suffered disappointment in the course of the French Revolution and, in different ways and at different times, changed their minds ...

Reticulation

Frank Kermode: Wordsworth at Sea, 6 February 2003

The Wreck of the ‘Abergavenny’ 
by Alethea Hayter.
Macmillan, 223 pp., £14.99, September 2002, 0 333 98917 1
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... of the East-Indiaman Abergavenny arose primarily from the circumstance that its captain was John Wordsworth, brother of the more famous William and Dorothy. His death in 1805 at the outset of what was to have been his last voyage before he retired (at 34) caused convulsions of sorrow at Grasmere, where he had intended to ...

After-Meditation

Thomas Keymer: The Girondin Wordsworth, 18 June 2020

Radical WordsworthThe Poet who Changed the World 
by Jonathan Bate.
William Collins, 608 pp., £25, April, 978 0 00 816742 4
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William WordsworthA Life 
by Stephen Gill.
Oxford, new edition, 688 pp., £25, April, 978 0 19 881711 6
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... round up to the clouds’. But it wasn’t just the landscape he had come for. He longed to meet Wordsworth, the poet of liberty and humanity, the great philanthropic voice of the rural poor. He made the seven-mile pilgrimage to Rydal Mount, Wordsworth’s scenic home near Ambleside, but it was election season in ...
The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Blackwell, 480 pp., £25, December 1996, 0 631 18746 4
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Coleridge: Selected Poems 
edited by Richard Holmes.
HarperCollins, 358 pp., £20, March 1996, 0 00 255579 4
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Coleridge’s Later Poetry 
by Morton Paley.
Oxford, 147 pp., £25, June 1996, 0 19 818372 0
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A Choice of Coleridge’s Verse 
edited by Ted Hughes.
Faber, 232 pp., £7.99, March 1996, 0 571 17604 6
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... In certain respects it is as if he had. After the first glorious days of his friendship with Wordsworth, Coleridge set about – or perhaps only resumed – a course of procrastination and ruin from which it seemed decent to avert one’s eyes. His life grew complicated and his poetry sparse, and his achievement took forms that required sometimes ...

Bumming and Booing

John Mullan: William Wordsworth, 5 April 2001

WordsworthA Life 
by Juliet Barker.
Viking, 971 pp., £25, October 2000, 9780670872138
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The Hidden Wordsworth 
by Kenneth Johnston.
Pimlico, 690 pp., £15, September 2000, 0 7126 6752 0
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Disowned by Memory: Wordsworth’s Poetry of the 1790s 
by David Bromwich.
Chicago, 186 pp., £9.50, April 2000, 0 226 07556 7
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... and silent students. The more they refuse to respond, the more excitable becomes his commentary on Wordsworth’s exploration of ‘the limits of sense-perception’. ‘For as long as he can remember, the harmonies of The Prelude have echoed within him,’ but in the classroom the echo stays inside his head. ...

The Mouth, the Meal and the Book

Christopher Ricks, 8 November 1979

Field Work 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 64 pp., £3, June 1979, 0 571 11433 4
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... those new potatoes? Some may think that this is bathos, but the presence within these poems of William Wordsworth (Dorothy and he at one point make a fleeting appearance, grave comic spectres not lightly to be called up for comparison) is a reminder that after the Augustans had derided it there really was discovered to be such a thing as the art of ...

I am a false alarm

Robert Irwin: Khalil Gibran, 3 September 1998

Kahlil Gibran: Man and Poet 
by Suheil Bushrui and Joe Jenkins.
One World, 372 pp., £18.99, August 1998, 1 85168 177 9
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Prophet: The Life and Times of Kahlil Gibran 
by Robin Waterfield.
Allen Lane, 366 pp., £20, August 1998, 0 7139 9209 3
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... the 20th century’. As it happened, Gibran could remember not only his previous reincarnation as William Blake, but also a subsequent incarnation as Dante Gabriel Rossetti. During the First World War he was offered a high-ranking political post and agents of the Ottoman Empire tried to assassinate him. He was impervious to pain and he communicated with a ...

One Bit of Rock or Moor

Susan Eilenberg: Wordsworth and the Victorians, 3 September 1998

Wordsworth and the Victorians 
by Stephen Gill.
Oxford, 300 pp., £25, April 1998, 0 19 811965 8
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The Five-Book Prelude 
by William Wordsworth, edited by Duncan Wu.
Blackwell, 214 pp., £40, April 1997, 0 631 20548 9
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... Durability was what mattered. Wordsworth founded his poetry on what he called ‘the beautiful and permanent forms of nature’ and built it according to ‘the primary laws of our nature’. It cleaved stubbornly to facts, to countable things, to rocks and stones and trees, and behaved rather like the boy Wordsworth himself, who, as he much later reported, often ‘grasped at a wall or tree’ on his way to school in order to reassure himself of the material reality of a world he did not entirely believe in ...

Jolly Jack and the Preacher

Patrick Parrinder, 20 April 1989

A Culture for Democracy: Mass Communication and the Cultivated Mind in Britain between the Wars 
by D.L. LeMahieu.
Oxford, 396 pp., £35, June 1988, 0 19 820137 0
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... for public attention, rather than acting as the spokesmen for inherently incompatible values. William Wordsworth, whose essays and prefaces originated much of the rhetoric of high-cultural debate, distinguishes between a taste for poetry – which involves active mental participation by the reader – and one for ‘rope-dancing, or Frontiniac or ...

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