William Wordsworth

Ernest De Selincourt and Alan G. Hill (eds), The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 4: The Later Years: Part I: 1821–1828 (Second Revised Edition)

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171. W. W. to MARIA JANE JEWSBURY2

  • MS. untraced.
  • The Times, 5 Oct. 1931. Gillett, p. xxi. LY i. 198.

  • Rydal Mount.
  • May 4th, 1825.

Madam,

Two days ago I received, and have since read your volume, in which I find so much to admire that it would have afforded me great pleasure to thank you for it under ordinary circumstances; but the accompanying letter and the avowal of your obligations to me in the Dedication,3 call for an acknowledgement which I should pg 343find difficult to express in terms suitable to my feelings. The honour you have done me puts me unavoidably on thinking a little about myself, which it would be spurious humility to say I should be averse to on such an incitement, did not the occasion seem to require that I should say something of myself also—but on this point a word shall suffice. I am not altogether free from reflections natural to my time of life, such as, that I have lived and laboured to little purpose,—assurances like yours are correctives of this mistake, for how can it be other than one, when I receive blossoms of such promise with declarations so fervent, yet evidently sincere!

I am afraid that it may give you some little pain to be told, that upon the whole, I prefer your Prose to your Verse; but the lines 'to Love' are so excellent that you need not be discouraged even should you coincide with me in thinking this opinion is just. In this Poem is a Couplet that is obscure 'And I know what all have known' should be 'I shall know' etc.—the rest is admirable, both in thought and expression, and the conclusion from 'Bright-winged wanderer etc.' appears to me quite original. In the Lines to Death there is much strength, but I will point to your notice a faulty Couplet for the sake of summoning you to rigorous examination, which I look upon as indispensable in verse—

  • Death thou art half disarm'd and even I
  • Could find it then less terrible to die

There is confusion between the person of Death and act of dying—the process under two conflicting views—it ought to be, to meet thy dart—or, to submit to thy might—or something of that kind. But I might have spared these notices, since you describe yourself as deeply regretting defects and imperfections. Though I wished in this letter to benefit you in another way than my writings have yet done—a thousand times more agreeable to me is it to express my admiration of the good sense, the vivacity, the versatility and the ease and vigour diffused thro' your very interesting volume. The Critical Essays, and those that turn upon manners and the surface of life, are remarkable; the one for sound judgment, and the other for acute observation and delicate handling, without exaggeration or caricature, and the episode 'the Unknown', highly to be commended for the conciseness and spirit of the style (as indeed is all you have written), shews an acquaintance with the human heart and a power over the feelings from which no common things may be augured. Yet while I express myself thus, let me caution you, who are probably young, not to rest your hopes or happiness upon pg 344Authorship. I am aware that nothing can be done in literature without enthusiasm, and therefore it costs me more to write in this strain—but of even successful Authors how few have become happier Men—how few I am afraid have become better by their labours. Why should this be? and yet I cannot but feel persuaded that it is so with our sex, and your's is, I think, full as much exposed to evils that beset the condition. It is obvious that you have a just sense of what female merit consists in—therefore I hope for you in a degree which I could not venture to do without this evidence of the depth of your feelings and the loftiness of your conceptions.

I am glad that Mr A. Watts is interested in your Publication, his Poems have the stamp of genuine sensibility, and his opinions, as far as I am acquainted with them, are sound.

I am afraid that having entered so far into detail in this letter, I ought to have gone farther—not to have said so much, or to have said more—at all events I shall have proved that I am sincerely interested in your welfare. I shall look for your second volume with some impatience and remain meanwhile, Madam,

  • Your obligd Friend and Servant,     
  • Wm Wordsworth   

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Notes

Editor’s Note
2 Maria Jane Jewsbury (1800–33) began to contribute to the Manchester Gazette in 1821, and with the help of her friend Alaric Watts (see L. 144 above) published Phantasmagoria, or Sketches of Life and Literature, 2 vols., 1825, dedicated to W. W. She sent him an advance copy of the first volume in May with a letter of 'respectful admiration' (quoted by Gillett, p. xix, from WL MSS.), to which this letter is the reply. Her close friendship with the Wordsworths continued until 1831, when she married the Revd. William Kew Fletcher, and went out with him to India, where she died of cholera two years later. See Eric Gillett, Maria Jane Jewsbury: Occasional Papers, selected with a Memoir, 1932.
Editor’s Note
3 It referred to the 'grateful feeling for the high delight and essential benefit' which she had derived from the poet's works.
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