A Choice of Texts, a Choice of Wordsworths: Reading The Excursion Over Two Centuries

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


In The Spirit of the Age William Hazlitt memorably described The Excursion as falling ‘stillborn from the press’.1 Five hundred copies had been printed in 1814; little more than half of them had been sold by the end of the year. By comparison, Byron’s The Corsair, also published in 1814, sold 10,000 copies on the day it came out. Wordsworth had certainly made a name for himself as a poet; he had maintained and enlarged a coterie following, but as The Excursion made very clear, he was not a commercially successful poet. In 1814 some readers may have had a knowledge of An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, but most will have known of him solely as the author of Lyrical Ballads and Poems in Two Volumes. Lyrical Ballads had established its place on the shelves of most well-stocked libraries in the course of the first decade of the nineteenth century. Its success can be measured by the fact that Longman’s were prepared to set up a print run of 1000 copies of Poems in Two Volumes in 1807. Such was the critical drubbing handed out to the 1807 collection, however, that 230 copies still remained unsold when The Excursion, a poem in nine books, first appeared in August 1814.


French Revolution Political Liberty Paradise Lost English Poetry Church Building 
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© John Williams 2002

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  • John Williams

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