T. L. Burton and K. K. Ruthven (eds), The Complete Poems of William Barnes, Vol. 1: Poems in the Broad Form of the Dorset Dialect

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pg viiPreface

This is the first volume of a three-volume edition of The Complete Poems of William Barnes. It includes every poem Barnes wrote in what we call the broad form of the dialect spoken by labouring-class inhabitants of rural Dorset in early nineteenth-century England. After first publishing each poem anonymously in the Dorset County Chronicle between 2 January 1834 and 14 September 1843, Barnes revised and reprinted most of them under his own name in what became retrospectively the first edition of his 'First Collection' of Poems of Rural Life, in the Dorset Dialect (1844). Three years later he further revised the contents of 1844 before publishing his 'second edition' of that first collection (1847a).

In 1859 Barnes published his 'Second Collection' of dialect poems in a book entitled Hwomely Rhymes (1859a). By then, however, he had modified both the grammar and spelling used in 1844 and 1847a, because critics had convinced him that by doing so he would make his work more accessible to readers in other parts of England, especially London. Like 1859a, his 'Third Collection' of Poems of Rural Life (1862a) is written in what we call the moderate form of the Dorset dialect. The poems from the Second and Third collections will be reprinted in the second volume of his Complete Poems, together with all those included in the First Collection, which Barnes had transcribed from the broad into the moderate form of the dialect for its 'third edition' (1862c). The volume will also reprint all poems in the moderate form of the dialect that were not included in any of the three collections.

The third volume of Complete Poems will reprint poems and translations Barnes composed in neither the broad nor the moderate form of Dorset speech but instead in what he variously called 'book English' (1844 3), 'national English' (1846a title), and 'common English' (1868 title); that is, the standard English in which his first book, Poetical Pieces (1820), is written.

1844 is both the first compilation of poems composed exclusively in the Dorset dialect and arguably the most important book of dialect poems published in nineteenth-century England. These poems entered the public domain not as the self-justifying creations of a previously unknown dialect poet but accompanied by both a treatise on the Anglo-Saxon pedigree of Dorset speech and a glossary of Dorset usages. Our General Introduction to Barnes's Complete Poems attempts to reconstruct the milieu in which he decided that the Dorset dialect was as adequate a medium in which to write poetry as Robert Burns had proved the Ayrshire dialect of Scotland to be, and then spent the best part of a decade composing and revising the poems reprinted here. In the opening section we situate Barnes's earliest and most political dialect poems in the period that begins with the Swing Riots of 1830 and ends with the Chartist Movement of 1838, when labouring-class discontent in the rural communities of south-west England was fuelled by the privatization of previously common land through enclosure legislation, the engrossment of small farms, the Tolpuddle martyrs affair, mass unemployment caused partly by economic downturns and partly by the increasing mechanization of farming practices, and the inhumane pg viiitreatment under new poor laws of consequently destitute families. We then revisit contemporary attitudes to England's regional dialects, which ranged from educated contempt for the speech of the lower orders to an increasingly professionalized dialectology, in the course of which the self-educated Barnes came to be recognized as an authority on Dorset usages. A third section of our General Introduction considers both earlier and contemporary examples of dialect poetry written in English, because comparisons with unsuccessful attempts by so-called vulgar rhymesters to turn the sow's ear of regional speech into the silk purse of poetry illuminate the singularity of Barnes's inaugural volume. And after describing some of the formal and generic features of 1844 we end by sampling its immediate reception by metropolitan as well as regional critics.

Who did what in a collaborative production generally arouses curiosity in readers who study its outcome closely. In our case, Burton retrieved and collated those pre- and post-1844 versions of Barnes's poems in the broad form of the Dorset dialect whose variants we record in our textual apparatuses. He also collated the 1844 and augmented 1847a texts of Barnes's 'Dissertation', annotated Barnes's glossaries, and—with reference to his pronunciation guide to Barnes's dialect poems (WBPG)—revealed that what look like false rhymes in current standard English were commonly homophonous in the dialect represented by Barnes's literations. Ruthven wrote the General Introduction, compiled the notes on Barnes's poems and 'Dissertation', and prepared the bibliography from which our list of References is drawn. This division of labour did not prevent either of us from contributing in various ways to the other's assignments. Our joint analysis of Barnes's metrics informs our prosodic notes on his poems and underpins our observations on his mastery of the medium. In the course of reading and commenting on one another's work-in-progress we developed and endorsed those principles and procedures that have determined both the form and content of this volume.

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