The Prelude, 1799, 1805, 1850: Authoritative Texts, Context and Reception, Recent Critical Essays

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Norton, 1979 - Literary Criticism - 684 pages
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There are no fewer than seventeen manuscripts of The Prelude in theWordsworth library at Grasmere. Working with these materials, theeditors have prepared an accurate reading version of 1799 and havenewly edited from manuscripts the texts of 1805 and 1850—thus freeingthe latter poem from the unwarranted alterations made by Wordsworth'sliterary executors. The editors also provide a text of MS. JJ(Wordsworth's earliest drafts for parts of The Prelude) as well astranscriptions of other important passages in manuscript whichWordsworth failed to include in any fair copy of his poem. The textsare fully annotated, and the notes for all three versions of ThePrelude are arranged so that each version may be read independently.The editors provide a concise history of the texts and describe theprinciples by which each has been transcribed from the manuscripts.

There are many other aids for a thorough study of The Prelude and itsbackground. A chronological table enables the reader to contextualizethe biographical and historical allusions in the texts and footnotes.

"References to The Prelude in Process" presents the relevant allusions tothe poem, by Wordsworth and by members of his circle, from 1799 to1850. Another section, "Early Reception," reprints significant commentson the published version of 1850 by readers and reviewers.

Finally, there are seven critical essays by Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H.Abrams, Geoffrey H. Hartman, Richard J. Onorato, William Empson,Herbert Lindenberger, and W. B. Gallie.

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About the author (1979)

William Wordsworth, 1770 - 1850 Born April 7, 1770 in the "Lake Country" of northern England, the great English poet William Wordsworth, son of a prominent aristocrat, was orphaned at an early age. He attended boarding school in Hawkesmead and, after an undistinguished career at Cambridge, he spent a year in revolutionary France, before returning to England a penniless radical. Wordsworth later received honorary degrees from the University of Durham and Oxford University. He is best known for his work "The Prelude", which was published after his death. For five years, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy lived very frugally in rural England, where they met Samuel Taylor Coleridge. "Lyrical Ballads", published anonymously in 1798, led off with Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" and ended with Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey". Between these two masterworks are at least a dozen other great poems. "Lyrical Ballads" is often said to mark the beginning of the English romantic revolution. A second, augmented edition in 1800 was prefaced by one of the great manifestos in world literature, an essay that called for natural language in poetry, subject matter dealing with ordinary men and women, a return to emotions and imagination, and a conception of poetry as pleasure and prophecy. Together with Robert Southey, these three were known as the "Lake Poets", the elite of English poetry. Before he was 30, Wordsworth had begun the supreme work of his life, The Prelude, an immensely long autobiographical work on "The Growth of the Poet's Mind," a theme unprecedented in poetry. Although first finished in 1805, The Prelude was never published in Wordsworth's lifetime. Between 1797 and 1807, he produced a steady stream of magnificent works, but little of his work over the last four decades of his life matters greatly. "The Excursion", a poem of epic length, was considered by Hazlitt and Keats to be among the wonders of the age. After "Lyrical Ballads", Wordsworth turned to his own life, his spiritual and poetical development, as his major theme. More than anyone else, he dealt with mysterious affinities between nature and humanity. Poems like the "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality" have a mystical power quite independent of any particular creed, and simple lyrics like "The Solitary Reaper" produced amazingly powerful effects with the simplest materials. Wordsworth also revived the sonnet and is one of the greatest masters of that form. Wordsworth is one of the giants of English poetry and criticism, his work ranging from the almost childishly simple to the philosophically profound. Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson in 1802 and in 1813, obtained a sinecure as distributor of stamps for Westmoreland. At this stage of his life, Wordsworth's political beliefs had strayed from liberal to staunchly conservative. His last works were published around 1835, a few trickled in as the years went on, but the bulk of his writing had slowed. In 1842 he was awarded a government pension and in 1843 became the Poet Laureate of England, after the post was vacated by his friend Coleridge. Wordsworth wrote over 523 sonnets in the course of his lifetime. Wordsworth died at Rydal Mount on April 23, 1850. He is buried in Grasme Curchyard. He was 80 years old.

Jonathan Wordsworth was a Fellow of Saint Catherine's College, Oxford, and Faculty Lecturer in Romanticism in the English Faculty, Oxford University. He was also Chairman of the Trustees of Dove Cottage, Grasmere (the Wordsworth Archive). The author of The Music of Humanity and William Wordsworth, The Borders of Vision, and editor of Bicentenary Wordsworth Studies, he was at work on several other Wordsworth editions and studies.

M. H. Abrams, 1912 - 2015 Meyer Howard Abrams was born in Long Branch, New Jersey on July 23, 1912. He received a B.A. in English from Harvard University in 1934. He won a Henry fellowship to Cambridge University in 1935. He returned to Harvard University, where he received a Masters' degree in 1937 and a Ph. D. in 1940. He joined the Cornell University faculty in 1945 and taught a popular introductory survey class. While at Cornell in the 1950s, he was asked by publisher W. W. Norton to lead a team of editors compiling excerpts of vital English works. The first edition of the Norton Anthology came out in 1962. Abrams stayed on through seven editions. He was also the author of a popular Glossary of Literary Terms, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition, Natural Supernaturalism, The Milk of Paradise, and the essay collection The Fourth Dimension of a Poem. In 2014, he received a National Arts Medal for "expanding our perceptions of the Romantic tradition and broadening the study of literature." He died on April 21, 2015 at the age of 102.

Stephen Gill is Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford. He holds an M.A. and a B. Phil. from Exeter College and a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh and has taught at Edinburgh and at Cornell. He has edited the volume on The Salisbury Plain Poems for the Cornell Wordsworth series.

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