Three Narrative Poems: Peter Bell (1798/1819), Benjamin the Waggoner (1806/1819), The White Doe of Rylstone (1807/1815)

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


It was not until 1820, when Wordsworth published the sonnet sequences, The River Duddon, that he could begin to consider himself as having achieved commercial success as a poet. There were signs, however, that the tide of critical opinion was beginning to turn in his favour five years before this. John Scott, writing in the Champion (June 1815), made the following claim: ‘He is now before the public in a variety of works, — of unequal merit certainly, — but in their collective testimony proclaiming the greatest poetical genius of the age.’1 Scott was reviewing The White Doe of Rylstone, one of three extended narrative poems written much earlier, but not previously published. Like the still unpublished Prelude, all three narratives are concerned in various ways with the problematic relationship between a public and a private life; all three poems are concerned with a central figure who seeks redemption after suffering a fall from grace. The White Doe (published in 1815) had been written in 1807; Benjamin the Waggoner was written the year before, and published in the same year as the third in this group, Peter Bell, 1819. Peter Bell had been written back in 1798. All were ridiculed by what had become a well-established pack of Wordsworth detractors among the critics of the day.


Critical Opinion Rugged Landscape Romantic Poet Travel Account Ancient Marine 
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© John Williams 2002

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  • John Williams

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