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William Wordsworth

Ernest De Selincourt and Mary Moorman (eds), The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 2: The Middle Years: Part I: 1806–1811 (Second Revised Edition)

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pg 19496. W. W. to SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT

  • Address: Sir George Beaumont, Bart., Dunmow, Essex.
  • Stamp: Keswick.
  • Endorsed: 'on poetry, W. W—'.
  • MS. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
  • K. MY i. 317, p. 169.

[Feb. 1808]1

My dear Sir George,

I am quite delighted to hear of your Picture for Peter Bell; I was much pleased with the Sketch and I have no doubt that the picture will surpass it as far as a picture ought to do. I long much to see it. I should approve of any Engraver approved of by you. But remember that no Poem of mine will ever be popular; and I am afraid that the sale of Peter would not carry the expense of the Engraving, and that the Poem in the estimation of the public would be a weight upon the Print. I say not this in modest disparagement of the Poem, but in sorrow for the sickly taste of the Public in verse. The People would love the Poem of Peter Bell, but the Public (a very different Being) will never love it.———Thanks for dear Lady B.'s transcript from your Friend's Letter,—it is written with candour, but I must say a word or two not in praise of it. 'Instances of what I mean,' says your Friend, 'are to be found in a poem on a Daisy' (by the bye, it is on the Daisy, a mighty difference). 'and on Daffodils reflected in the Water' Is this accurately transcribed by Lady Beaumont? If it be, what shall we think of criticism or judgement founded upon and exemplified by a Poem which must have been so inattentively perused? My Language is precise, and, therefore, it would be false modesty to charge myself with blame.

  •                   —Beneath the trees,
  •           Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.
  •           The waves beside them danced, but they
  •           Outdid the sparkling waves in glee.

Can expression be more distinct? And let me ask your Friend how it is possible for flowers to be reflected in water where there are waves. They may indeed in still water—but the very object of my poem is the trouble or agitation both of the flowers and the Water. I must needs respect the understanding of every one honoured by pg 195your friendship; but sincerity compels me to say that my Poems must be more nearly looked at before they can give rise to any remarks of much value, even from the strongest minds.—With respect to this individual poem, Lady B. will recollect how Mrs. Fermor expressed herself upon it.—A Letter also was sent to me addressed to a friend of mine and by him communicated to me in which this identical poem was singled out for fervent approbation. What then shall we say? Why let the Poet first consult his own heart as I have done and leave the rest to posterity; to, I hope, an improving posterity. The fact is, the English Public are at this moment in the same state of mind with respect to my Poems, if small things may be compared with great, as the French are in respect to Shakespear; and not the French alone, but almost the whole Continent. In short, in your Friend's Letter, I am condemned for the very thing for which I ought to have been praised; viz., that I have not written down to the level of superficial observers and unthinking minds.——Every great Poet is a Teacher: I wish either to be considered as a Teacher, or as nothing.

To turn to a more pleasing subject; have you painted anything else beside this picture from Peter Bell? Your two oil Paintings (and indeed everything I have of yours) have been much admired by the artists who have seen them. And for our own parts we like them better every day; this in particular is the case with the small picture from the neighbourhood of Coleorton (which indeed pleased me much at the first sight) but less impressed the rest of our Household, who now see as many beauties in it as I do myself. Havill1 the Water-Colour Painter was much pleased with these things; he is painting at Ambleside; and has done a view of Rydale Water, looking down upon it from Rydale Park, of which I should like to know your opinion; it will be exhibited in the spring in the water-colour exhibition. I have purchased a black lead Pencil Sketch of Mr. Green of Ambleside2 which I think has great merit, the materials being uncommonly picturesque and well put together; I should dearly like to have the same subject (it is the Cottage at Glencoyn, by Ullswater) treated by you. In the Poem I pg 196have just written you will find one situation which, if the work should ever become familiarly known, would furnish as fine a subject for a Picture as anything I remember in Poetry antient or modern1. I need not mention what it is; as when you read the Poem you cannot miss it.——We have at last had, by the same Post, two Letters from Coleridge, long and melancholy; and also from Keswick an account so depressing as to the state of his health, that I should have set off immediately to London2 to see him if I had not myself been confined by a violent inflammation in my face from cold and a decayed Tooth.—

I hope that Davy3 is by this time perfectly restored to Health.—Believe me my dear Sir George most sincerely yours

W. Wordsworth.  

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 Probably about 20 Feb. Sir George's reply, which is in the Wordsworth Library, is dated 25 Feb. D. W.'s letter which follows accompanied this one, and mentions 'last Tuesday'—the date on which Southey started for Leeds, which we know to have been 16 Feb.
Editor’s Note
1 William Havell (1782-1857) occupied a prominent place among the founders of the English Water-colour School. He travelled in China, India, and Italy, and was especially famous for his landscapes.
Editor’s Note
2 William Green of Ambleside (1761-1823), whose many drawings of the Lake District form a most valuable pictorial record for this period. Between 1808 and 1814 he issued a series of prints, and in 1822 published The Tourist's New Guide, containing a Description of the Lakes, etc., with forty etchings. His epitaph (in Grasmere churchyard) is by W. W.
Editor’s Note
1 Sir George made an oil-painting of the White Doe lying in the precincts of Bolton Priory. It was engraved as a frontispiece to the poem in 1815.
Editor’s Note
2 W. in fact departed for London to see Coleridge on 23 Feb.
Editor’s Note
3 Humphry Davy, the chemist.
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