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William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth

The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 7: The Later Years: Part IV: 1840–1853 (Second Revised Edition)

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1761. W. W. to C. W.

  • MS. WL.
  • LY iii. 1192.

20 Decr [1843]1

My dear Brother,

Mr Burns has forwarded to me your favorable notice of his Selections from my Poems; your approbation would have been well deserved, if either I or Mr Moxon had given our consent to any such publication. The matter originated thus. The Revd Mr Gough, then under master of St. Bees School, and now head master of the Grammar School Carlisle, applied to me for permission to publish Selections from my poems, as an ordinary school-book for his own Scholars mainly and for the use of those classes of society which might not have access to so expensive a book as the whole Body of my Poetry. He told me also, that having his own Scholars mainly in view the Selections would principally be of Poems the subjects of which were from the North of England, as being most likely to interest them. Of course I had no difficulty in giving my consent to such a publication under his management, nor to his extending the collection, as far as was consistent with a low price, and reasonable attention to Mr Moxon's interests and my own. In fact I expected that the price of the Book would not exceed half a pg 510crown or three shillings at the utmost, and as neither I nor Mr Moxon nor Mr Gough looked to any pecuniary advantage, or wished for any, the work would have had no expenses to bear of Copyright or Editorship, and might have been sold cheap accordingly. Mr Charles Knight1 publishes a play of Shakespear (sometimes extending to 120 pages) for sixpence—The paper and type are unexceptionable, so that no Copyright profit being in my case looked for, the Selections might have been sold proportionately cheap, care only being taken that they did not go to an extent which would obviously be injurious to the sale of the Works in a Body. Mr Gough was much in fault as he did not let me know what Burns was doing, though he protested against it. Burns was also greatly in fault whatever might be his motives, in setting aside Mr Gough's judgement, and disregarding his wishes. In fact he put the work into the hands of another Editor, a Scotch man, who furnished a preface, the first sentence on the 2nd page2 of which I think very objectionable, as tending to impede the sale of the works in a body, though I trust it was not meant to do so. But too much of this matter. I have read Chris's Work3 both with profit and pleasure. I have not thanked him for it yet, except through the medium of the Morning Post, in a Sonnet4 printed in that journal, friday or Saturday last: perhaps you have either seen or heard of it. An Epitaph which I have written for dear Southey, will certainly reach you in a Circular printed Letter.

We look forward with great delight to seeing you here next pg 511Summer. We did not get to Leamington but came strai[gh]t home after leaving Brinsop. Our spirits were too much depressed to allow of our turning out of the way, even to visit friends. I hope Chris's valuable Book will meet with the reception it so amply deserves.

[unsigned]      

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Notes

Editor’s Note
1 Year added by C. W.
Editor’s Note
1 Charles Knight (1791–1873), journalist, and publisher of Knight's Quarterly Magazine (1823–4), the Penny Magazine (1832–45), etc., began issuing his editions of Shakespeare's plays in 1838. His Pictorial Shakespeare was completed in 1841. Among his numerous other works were Half Hours with the Best Authors, 4 vols., 1847–8, and the autobiographical Passages of a Working Life, 3 vols., 1864–5.
Editor’s Note
2 The Advertisement recommended W. W.'s poetry as 'one of our direct instruments of education.' 'By no such great poet, besides Shakespeare, has the English tongue been used with equal purity, and yet such flexible command of its resources.' The offending sentence read: 'In the following selection, therefore, the compiler's choice has fallen, as far as possible, on such poems as contain the broader features of Wordsworth's style, as possess a beauty which must reveal itself to all who have the capacity of perceiving beauty, and as have, by this time, taken their place among the classics of the English tongue.'
Editor’s Note
3 Theophilus Anglicanus (see L. 1756 above).
Editor’s Note
4 To the Rev. Christopher Wordsworth, D.D., Master of Harrow School (PW iii. 59).
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