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[225]

An advertisement prefixed to the ‘Lyrical Ballads,’ as originally published in one volume, warned the reader that ‘they were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.’ In his preface to the second edition, in two volumes, Wordsworth already found himself forced to shift his ground a little (perhaps in deference to the wider view and finer sense of Coleridge), and now says of the former volume that ‘it was published as an experiment which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement, a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted which a poet may rationally endeavor to impart.’1 Here is evidence of a retreat towards a safer position, though Wordsworth seems to have remained unconvinced at heart, and for many years longer clung obstinately to the passages of bald prose into which his original theory had betrayed him. In 1815 his opinions had undergone a still further change, and an assiduous study of the qualities of his own mind and of his own poetic method (the two subjects in which alone he was ever a thorough scholar) had convinced him that poetry was in no sense that appeal to the understanding which is implied by the words ‘rationally endeavor to impart.’ In the preface of that year he says, ‘The observations prefixed to that portion of these volumes which was published many years ago under the title of Lyrical Ballads have so little of special application to the greater part of the present enlarged and diversified collection, that they could not with propriety stand as ’

1 Some of the weightiest passages in this Preface, as it is now printed, were inserted without notice of date in the edition of 1815.

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