Laughing Songs: Blake and Wordsworth

  • Mark Storey


In English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809) Byron turned the tables on Wordsworth, and equated the bard, in ‘The Idiot Boy’, with the hero of the story; Wordsworth in turn pronounced Byron ‘somewhat cracked’.1 Most of the major Romantic writers laid themselves open to similar charges of folly or lunacy. Blake is the prime example, because he seemed so totally incomprehensible to most of his contemporaries; his madness seemed so overwhelmingly evident both in his life and in his work. B. H. Malkin’s description of him in 1806 as an ‘engraver who might do tolerably well, if he was not mad’ set the tone for much of the contemporary reception.2 If looking through these heated, often outraged, reactions reminds us of the candour and obtuseness of the literary world in the early nineteenth century, it also serves to bring home to us the nature of the issues involved. The established world of order, of decorum, of accepted values, was being threatened; and when the connection between a man’s art and his character was increasingly stressed, the threat was to morality and therefore even more alarming. Small wonder that attacks were as often as not focused on a writer’s character. The Antijacobin Review in 1808 was all for locking Blake away: ‘Whatever license we may allow him as a painter, to tolerate him as a poet would be insufferable’.3


Basic Seriousness Conventional Pastoral Ancient Mariner Lyric Poem Beautiful Lyric 
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Copyright information

© Mark Storey 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Storey
    • 1
  1. 1.BirminghamUK

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