New Directions: The Ruined Cottage

  • John Williams
Part of the Critical Issues book series (CRTI)


The next two chapters consider a collection of poems, the Lyrical Ballads, first published in 1798, and a single poem, The Ruined Cottage, that remained in fragmentary form from 1797 until 1814, when it was published under another name as the first Book of The Excursion. Lyrical Ballads is universally recognised as Words-worth’s first major poetic achievement; The Ruined Cottage is by comparison a ghost text. The discussion in both chapters will be guided in part by speculation on the significance of each for Wordsworth, and by considering how literary criticism subsequently came to regard them. In their introduction to the Cornell edition of Lyrical Ballads (1992), James Butler and Karen Green make the point (in common with a good many other recent Wordsworth scholars) that the Ballads were not a carefully planned aesthetic experiment. The lengthy Preface which Wordsworth added to the second augmented edition of 1800 (and then proceeded to expand for subsequent printings) most certainly did elevate the collection to the level of a coherently organised anthology, one which has now been recognised as a defining document for the study of English Romanticism. In addition to the Preface, Coleridge’s reminiscences of the origins of Lyrical Ballads in his Biographia Literaria (1817) are often referred to as confirmation of the fact that there was a carefully worked out plan for putting together a collection of contrasting poems.1


Literary Criticism Aesthetic Experiment Paradise Lost Fragmentary Form High Social Standing 
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  1. 2.
    See Kenneth R. Johnston, The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy ( New York and London: Norton, 1998 ), pp. 526–31;Google Scholar
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    John Williams, Wordsworth: Romantic Poetry and Revolution Politics ( Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989 ), pp. 29–31.Google Scholar
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    Jonathan Wordsworth, The Music of Humanity ( London: Nelson, 1969 ).Google Scholar
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    F. R. Leavis, Revaluations: Tradition and Revolution in English Poetry (London: Chatto and Windus, 1936), p. 179. See Ruined Cottage, p. ix.Google Scholar
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    Geoffrey Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry ( London and Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987 ), p. 140.Google Scholar
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    David B. Pirie, William Wordsworth: The Poetry of Grandeur and of Tenderness ( London: Methuen, 1982 ), p. 70.Google Scholar
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    Stephen Maxfield Parrish, ‘Dramatic Technique in the Lyrical Ballads’, in Wordsworth: Lyrical Ballads, ed. Alun R. Jones and William Tydeman ( London: Macmillan Press — now Palgrave Macmillan, 1972 ), p. 130.Google Scholar

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© John Williams 2002

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  • John Williams

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