William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Lyrical ballads

LONDON: J. and A. ARCH, 1798

William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Lyrical ballads. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Lyrical ballads

The poets William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) first met in Bristol in August 1795. The most fruitful period of their association came two years later, when they lived within walking distance of each other in western Somerset, Coleridge with his wife and infant son at the small village of Nether Stowey, Wordsworth with his beloved sister Dorothy at nearby Alfoxden. Although in later life Wordsworth's politics became increasingly conservative, at this stage of his career he shared Coleridge's republican zeal. Both poets were convinced of the need to replace the artificial diction of late eighteenth-century verse with a fresher language more attuned to everyday speech.

At one point they planned to write works in tandem, but nothing came of this scheme beyond Wordsworth's suggesting a few plot ideas for Coleridge's long narrative poem ‘The rime of the Ancient Mariner’. None of the twenty-three poems contained in their collaborative venture, Lyrical Ballads, which they chose to present anonymously, was a product of joint authorship. Besides ‘The Ancient Mariner’, Coleridge contributed ‘The Nightingale’ (subtitled ‘a conversational poem’) and two brief extracts from his verse tragedy Osorio (eventually retitled Remorse and not performed until 1813). Everything else was written by Wordsworth. ‘Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey’, the superb Wordsworthian effusion with which the volume concludes, was a late addition to the manuscript submitted to Coleridge's friend, the Bristol bookseller and publisher Joseph Cottle.

In financial strife, Cottle changed his mind about publishing after all the pages had been printed and transferred the edition of about 500 to the Arch brothers of London, who replaced the original title-page with one bearing their imprint. Despite some negative reviews, the book sold well enough for revised two-volume editions to prove viable in 1800, 1802 and 1805. These added a lengthy introduction and many new poems by Wordsworth but only one further poem (‘Love’) by Coleridge. Deemed too obscure to be an inviting opener, ‘The Ancient Mariner’, which had pride of place in 1798, was moved further back in subsequent editions.

A pencilled note at the front of the Library's copy says it was ‘a dying gift’ from William Tatton to William Wildman. A Londoner born in 1805, Tatton migrated to New Zealand aboard the barque Eden in 1850. He died in New Plymouth in August 1886. His beneficiary might have been the same William Wildman who opened a bookstore in Auckland in 1886. A later note on the endpapers, written by Henry Shaw during his tenure as curator of the Grey Collection, says that Wildman passed on the book to Sir George Grey soon after receiving it. It did not remain long in Grey's hands either. It was among the first batch of books the former governor donated in 1887.

Related resources: view the work of these poets online in the Columbia Grangers World of Poetry database (requires library card number and pin). 

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