STRANGE FITS OF PASSION: Wordsworth’s revolution

Adam Kirsch in The New Yorker:

Williamwordsworth190x264Has there ever been a great poet as tempting to laugh at as William Wordsworth? The tradition of mocking him is as old as the tradition of revering him. In 1807, when Wordsworth published “Poems, in Two Volumes,” the fashionable reviewers competed in the ingenuity of their scorn. Francis Jeffrey, the critical dictator of the Edinburgh Review, declared that “if the printing of such trash as this be not felt as an insult on the public taste, we are afraid it cannot be insulted.” Jeffrey remained the chief bane of Wordsworth’s career—in 1814, his review of “The Excursion,” a nine-thousand-line epic, began with an airy “This will never do”—but he was just one of many who felt the need to cut the poet down to size. “For nearly twenty years,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge complained in “Biographia Literaria,” Wordsworth’s poems “have well-nigh engrossed criticism, as the main, if not the only, butt of review, magazine, pamphlet, poem, and paragraph.”

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