Wordworth's affective poetics


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Wordworth's affective poetics rhetorical theory and poetic revolution
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viii, 174 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Brown, Byron Keith, 1953-
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Poetics -- History   ( lcsh )
Rhetoric -- History   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1981.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 168-173).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Byron Keith Brown.
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University of Florida
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Copyright 1981


Byron Keith Brown

To my wife, Janet


I am first of all indebted to Dr. Richard Brantley, whose patient

encouragement, guidance, and help in focusing inchoate ideas made this

study possible. I am also indebted to Dr. Melvyn New, for his helpful

comments upon early drafts; and to Dr. Ronald Carpenter, for his help

in the rhetorical aspects of this study. I would also like to extend

my thanks to Dr. James Twitchell and Dr. Douglas Bonneville for their

cooperation, goodwill, and support. Finally, I would like to express

my appreciation for Dr. Alistair Duckworth's helpful reading of an early


I am, at last, indebted most of all to my wife, Janet, for her

patience and sacrifice; to my daughter, Laura, for her irrepressible

good humor; and to our families, for their support and encouragement.



ABSTRACT . . . .



Notes . . .







Notes . ... 33




Wordsworth and the New Rhetoric . .
Hume and Wordsworth: The Rhetoric of Sympathy
Wordsworth and the Problem of Referentiality:
Two Responses . .
Notes . . .


Imitation and the "Preface" of 1800 .
Modified Mimesis: The Poems of 1800 .
Eloquence and the "Preface" of 1802 .
Peter Bell and "The Ruined Cottage": Imitation
and Eloquence in Two Conversion Poems. .
Notes . . .


Wordsworth, Blair, and the Language of Imagination.
Redemptive Figures: Argument and Imagination in
"Resolution and Independence" . .
Notes . . .

NATURE . . .





The Incarnated Word: Reading and the Book of Nature
Rhetorical Imagination and Classical "Image". .
The Rhetorical Image: A Night on Salisbury Plain. .
Notes . . .







Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Byron Keith Brown

June, 1981

Chairman: Richard E. Brantley
Major Department: English

Despite the frequent and often obtrusive tendentiousness of

Wordsworth's poetry, critics have, until recently, demonstrated a

general reluctance to discuss his poetry in rhetorical terms. This

reluctance, I believe, stems from two emphases of Wordsworth's own

theory. The first is his well-known definition of poetry as the

"spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," a definition which seems

to exclude from the process of composition the sense of purpose

essential for rhetorical discourse. The second is Wordsworth's

emphasis upon the imagination, which, because of its dialectic between

man and nature, seems to preclude a consciously persuasive end from

the poetic process. Both imagination and spontaneous expression,

however, figured prominently in the "new rhetoric" of the late

eighteenth century. This rhetoric reformulated rhetorical theory on

the basis of empirical epistemology and associationistic psychology.


Sharing a common philosophical heritage with these rhetoricians,

Wordsworth also shared a similar rhetorical orientation. The present

study seeks to locate Wordsworth's understanding of the processes of

composition in this rhetorical tradition, and from this perspective to

examine the extent to which his characteristic poetic idiom was, in

origin and function, rhetorical.

While the term "rhetoric" has traditionally defied definition,

this study uses the term in its generally accepted sense as language

that is not only persuasive in function, but purposeful in origin.

Chapter One demonstrates Wordsworth's sense of purpose and sensitivity

to audience, and reviews the few studies that have begun to recognize

a Wordsworthian rhetoric. Rather than seeking to define "rhetoric,"

Chapter Two attempts to demonstrate how Wordsworth's poetry grew out

of what Lloyd Bitzer has called a "rhetorical situation"; at the same

time, it seeks to define, through a reading of "Tintern Abbey," the

evangelical extent of Wordsworth's sense of purpose.

Chapters Three and Four specifically address themselves to the

rhetorical foundations of Wordsworth's "spontaneous" expression. As a

result of philosophical assumptions, the new rhetoric attempted to

approximate discourse to experience. Rooting belief as well as action

in passion rather than reason, the new rhetoric especially valued

"sympathy," or the identification of author and reader, as the means of

sharing such experience. This interest in sympathy led Wordsworth to

his "vivacity" of diction, and his "natural order" of syntax and

arrangement. As he increasingly internalized his poetic voice, he

finally identified his redemptive poetry with the rhetorical ideal of

"eloquence," lofty and impassioned discourse that moved its hearers

because of its passionate spontaneity, and not in spite of it.

Chapters Five and Six address the origin and function of

Wordsworth's imagination from this same rhetorical perspective. As

critics have recognized, Wordsworth shared an associative understanding

of the imagination with the eighteenth century. Such popular works as

Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres placed the imagi-

nation's associative operations at the very foundation of language;

Chapter Five attempts to demonstrate how Wordsworth's similarly associ-

ative understanding of the imagination led him to understand its

signifying function. Chapter Six closes this study by examining

Wordsworth's rhetorical understanding of the "image" as a repository of

significance. The poet recovers meaning by "reading" the image.



When John Stuart Mill distinguished in his essay "What is Poetry?"

between "eloquence" as the "heard" expression of feeling and "poetry"

as the "overheard" expression of it, he divided discourse arising out

of the passions and imagination along lines that have served to guide

almost every subsequent reading of Wordsworth's poetry. In this essay

Mill categorizes Wordsworth's verse as "poetry," and while he, no less

than later critics, recognized its affective power, his restricted

definition of poetic discourse tended to deny the poet's systematic and

practical concern with communication. More recently, M. H. Abrams has

expressed the reasons for this century's similar reluctance, until

recently, to allow Wordsworth's poetry a truly rhetorical dimension.

Both Wordsworth and Coleridge, he explains in "Wordsworth and Coleridge

on Diction and Figures," neglect in their poetic theory and practice

alike the "dual reference to the subject imitated and the effect upon

the reader" characterizing the truly rhetorical poetry of the

eighteenth century.1 Since, as he understands it, they selected

language for its ability to express individual passion rather than for

its dramatic propriety or its power to move its readers, he concludes

that Wordsworth "rejected the long enduring rhetorical understructure

of poetic theory."2

Two elements of Wordsworth's theory have contributed to this

general reluctance to discuss his works in rhetorical terms. The

first is his well-known description of poetry in the "Preface" to


Lyrical Ballads as the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings";

such an emphasis upon expression, of course, apparently leaves little

room for a practical consideration of the audience during the process

of composition. The second is his unprecedented emphasis upon the

imagination in The Prelude and the "Preface" to the 1815 edition of

his poems. Traditionally leading either to discussions to the poet's

visionary power or to considerations of the mind's dialectical rela-

tionship with nature, this Wordsworthian emphasis similarly seems to

slight the functionality of the poet's audience or the real consequence

of any overriding sense of public purpose for the actual conception

and execution of his work.

Much evidence, however, suggests that Wordsworth's poetry is much

closer to "eloquence" than Mill would have wanted to concede. His

blank verse, for example, is uniformly addressed. The "Lines composed

a few miles above Tintern Abbey," for example, are addressed to his

sister Dorothy; The Prelude, to Coleridge. Even The Excursion appears

in discursive form as the three principal characters seek to convert a

cynical and misanthropic ex-clergyman to a renewed faith in man,

nature, and society. Furthermore, this discursiveness is not merely

formal. In the "Preface" to the edition of 1815, Wordsworth indicates

the extent of his poetry's concern with communication when he

emphasizes his poems' aurality:

All Poets, except for the dramatic, have been in
the practice of feigning that their works were
composed to the music of the harp or lyre: with
what degree of affectation this has been done in
modern times, I leave to the judicious to determine.
For my own part, I have not been disposed to
violate probability so far, or to make such a large

demand upon the reader's charity. Some of these
pieces are essentially lyrical; and therefore,
cannot have their due force without a supposed
musical accompaniment; but in much the greatest
part, as a substitute for the classic lyre or
romantic harp, I require nothing more than an
animated or impassioned recitation, adapted to
the subject.3

Purely expressive language, of course, is similarly "spoken," but

Wordsworth's request for "an animated or impassioned recitation" for

his poetry suggests he was not simply interested in an aural poetry.

As he dismisses both the "classic lyre" and the "romantic harp," he is

clearly thinking of his poetry as not only oral, but as a form of


In fact, that Wordsworth and his associates thought of his poetry

in rhetorical terms is unavoidable. Writing to James Tobin in 1798

about his projected philosophic work The Recluse, Wordsworth, for

example, remarked, "My eloquence will all be carried off, at

least for some time, into my poem."4 Coleridge also associated

Wordsworth's blank verse with this rhetorical ideal, praising his

friend's "high dogmatic Eloquence, the oracular [tone] of impassioned

Blank Verse."5 Consequently, Mill's influential distinction between

"eloquence" and "poetry" is essentially un-Wordsworthian, and its

effects upon the criticism of Wordsworth's poetry, misleading. In this

present study, I seek to demonstrate the degree to which both

Wordsworth's emphases upon expression and imagination were in fact

profoundly rhetorical, not only insofar as they were consistent with

the rhetorical traditions he inherited, but also as they are

incorporated in the identifiably communicative impulses of his poetry.

Wordsworth's communicative impulse, of course, has not gone

unnoticed, and recent critics have become increasingly willing to

describe his poetry in rhetorical terms. In Wordsworth and the Poetry

of Sincerity (1964), David Perkins discusses the origin of much of

Wordsworth's poetry in the spoken word, while noting his need as a

practicing poet for an intimate, sympathetic, and supportive audience.6

Others have discovered a purposefulness in Wordsworth's imagery and

descriptions. Donald Wesling, for example, explores the poet's power

of "turning observations into arguments in the absence of explicit

dialectic," while Michael G. Cooke has argued that Wordsworth, through

his use of imagery and the internalized auditor, "gets into his poetry

something worthy of being considered a mode of argument." In

Wordsworth: Language as Counter-Spirit (1977), Frances Ferguson manages

to discuss, simultaneously, both the relationship between language and

consciousness within the poems and the provisions Wordsworth makes for

their reading.8

Most criticism of this sort, though, has centered around either

Wordsworth's attempts to use style and diction to re-create and communi-

cate experience, or else his sense of audience and purposeful arrange-

ment in The Prelude alone.

In 1917, Marjorie Barstow Greenbie helped pioneer a number of

studies of Wordsworth's style and diction with Wordsworth's Theory of

Poetic Diction; like many later critics, she focused most of her

attention upon Lyrical Ballads, classifying the syntactical peculi-

arities of the experimental poems of 1798 and linking them to

Wordsworth's attempts to recapture the psychological processes of the

rustic mind. In Wordsworth's Vocabulary of Emotion, Josephine Miles

took a sharply different approach; concentrating upon the interpretive

quality of Wordsworth's diction, she explored the poet's efforts to

name as well as enact his feelings, in the faith that emotion named

is emotion conveyed.0 More recent critics, though, have generally

followed Greenbie's lead. In The Making of Wordsworth's Poetry, 1785-

1798 (1973), Paul Sheats has explored how Wordsworth organized his

poems as "presentational structures" which "ambush" their readers; in

Why the Lyrical Ballads? (1976), John E. Jordan recognizes the active

participation of the reader evoked by this style, observing that

As we read Wordsworth's central poems of the
Lyrical Ballads, we are led by a special kind of
universalizing description to share the experi-
ence. If we had to find one word as the key
to these poems, perhaps it would be "empathy."11

Other critics have focused their attention upon Wordsworth's

changing sense of purpose in these early poems. In Wordsworth's

Formative Years (1943), George Wilbur Meyer suggests the influence of

David Hartley's moral system as he describes Wordsworth's movement

from political radicalism in his early poetry to his concern for the
moral improvement of his readers in Lyrical Ballads.2 Examining the

political statements of the pastoral poetry in The Art of the Lyrical

Ballads (1973), Stephen M. Parrish concludes that Wordsworth's poetry

is not so much "expressive" as "rhetorical."13 In her 1976 study,

Tradition and Experiment in Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads (1798), Mary

Jacobus similarly comments upon Wordsworth's shift from socially

humanitarian to moral ends while examining his techniques for attaining

these ends in several of the early poems.14
these ends in several of the early poems.


Still another group of rhetorical studies have clustered around

The Prelude. One of the first was Herbert Lindenberger's On Words-

worth's Prelude (1963), which discusses that poem's debt to classical

rhetoric as well as describes its attempts to create what the author

calls a "rhetoric of interactment" between mind and nature through the

use of imagery and an arrangement imitative of the original act of

perception.15 In The Problem of Shape in The Prelude: The Conflict of

Public and Private Speech (1968), Jonathan R. Grandine notes Words-

worth's conflicting desires for the freedom of private meditation and

the structure of public utterance.6 Frank D. McConnell explores

Wordsworth's use of language in a way closely approximating the evan-

gelical testimonial in The Confessional Imagination: A Reading of

Wordsworth's Prelude (1974); and in The Written Spirit: Thematic and

Rhetorical Structure in Wordsworth's The Prelude (1978), Karl R.

Johnson, Jr. argues for an intentionality operative in The Prelude's

complex system of interwoven repetitions.17

The present study owes a profound debt both to the general impetus

and the particular insights of these studies. None of them, however,

is primarily concerned with connecting Wordsworth with a recognizable

theory of rhetoric or persuasion. By examining the most significant

affinities between Wordsworth's poetical theory and his rhetorical

heritage, I first hope to demonstrate that he held a systematic

understanding of the ways in which language may be used to move and

affect. Secondly, through the reading of selected poems, I hope to

demonstrate the degree to which this rhetorical understanding of

language permeated and controlled his poetry.


In Chapter Two I seek to establish the perimeters for rhetorical

analysis while demonstrating, through a reading of "Tintern Abbey,"

the extent to which Wordsworth's blank verse was rooted in the forms

of classical rhetoric. In Chapters Three and Four, I explore the

rhetorical foundations and functions of Wordsworth's expressiveness

by comparing his poetic theory with eighteenth-century attempts to

reformulate rhetorical theory on the basis of empirical epistemology

and associationistic psychology. As Wordsworth, like the so-called

"new rhetoricians" of the eighteenth century, came to depend upon the

communicative power of "sympathy," his theory became simultaneously

more rhetorical and more internalized. The final two chapters, in

turn, are devoted to the rhetorical function of imagination in

Wordsworth's poetical theory, first as it affected his choice and use

of language, then as it shaped his understanding of the act of reading.


M. H. Abrams, "Wordsworth and Coleridge on Diction and Figures,"
in English Institute Essays, 1952, ed. Alan S. Downer (New York:
Columbia Univ. Press, 1954), p. 178.

Abrams, p. 184.

3The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W. J. B. Owen and Jane
Worthington Smyser (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), III, 29. Emphasis
is mine.

The Early Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth (1787-1805),
ed. Ernest De Selincourt (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935), p. 188.

Coleridge as cited by David Perkins in Wordsworth and the Poetry
of Sincerity (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1964), p. 173.

Perkins, pp. 77-83, 159-161.

7Donald Wesling, Wordsworth and the Adequacy of Landscape (New
York: Barnes and Noble, 1970), p. 19; Michael G. Cooke, "The Mode of
Argument in Wordsworth's Poetry," in Romantic and Victorian: Studies
in Memory of William H. Marshall, ed. Paul Elledge and Richard L.
Hoffman (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1971), p. 97.

8Frances Ferguson, Wordsworth: Language as Counter-Spirit (New
Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1977); especially see "Epilogue," pp. 242-

9Marjorie Barstow Greenbie, Wordsworth's Theory of Poetic Diction,
Yale Studies in English, No. 57 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1917),
pp. 150-163, passim.

10Josephine Miles, Wordsworth and the Vocabulary of Emotion, Univ.
of California Publications in English, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Berkeley: Univ.
of California Press, 1942), p. 97.

11Paul Sheats, The Making of Wordsworth's Poetry, 1785-1798
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1973), p. 185; John E. Jordan,
Why the Lyrical Ballads? (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976),
pp. 7-8. In "Wordsworth and His Predecessors: Private Sensations and
Public Tones," Criticism 17 (Winter, 1975), 41-58, Wallace Jackson
discusses how the poems function as an "affective presence" more than
as statement. Other works discussing the rhetorical implications of
Wordsworth's theory as well as practice include Roger N. Murray's
Wordsworth's Style: Figures and Themes in the Lyrical Ballads of 1800
(Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1967); Gene W. Ruoff's "Wordsworth
on Language: Toward a Radical Poetics for English Romanticism,"
The Wordsworth Circle, III (Autumn, 1974), 204-211; Don H. Bialostosky's
"Coledrige's Interpretation of Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads,"
PMLA 93 (October, 1978), 912-924; and Morris Eaves' "Romantic Expressive
Theory and Blake's Idea of the Audience," PMLA 95 (October, 1980),

12George Wilbur Meyer, Wordsworth's Formative Years, Univ. of
Michigan Publications in Language and Literature, Vol. 20 (Ann Arbor:
Univ. of Michigan Press, 1943), pp. 233-243, passim.

13Stephen M. Parrish, The Art of the Lyrical Ballads (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1973), pp. 8-9.

14Mary Jacobus, Tradition and Experiment in Wordsworth's Lyrical
Ballads (1798) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), pp. 133-183, passim.

15Herbert Lindenberger, On Wordsworth's Prelude (Princeton:
Princeton Univ. Press, 1963); especially see Chapters I through III,
pp. 3-98, passim.


16Jonathan R. Grandine, The Problem of Shape in The Prelude: The
Conflict of Public and Private Speech (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ.
Press, 1968), pp. 27-29.

1Frank D. McConnell, The Confessional Imagination: A Reading of
Wordsworth's Prelude (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1974);
especially see Chapter IV, "Edenic Words," pp. 147-190; Karl R.
Johnson, Jr., The Written Spirit: Thematic and Rhetorical Structure in
Wordsworth's The Prelude, Romantic Reassessment, 72, ed. James Hogg,
Salzburg Studies in English Literature (Universitat Salzburg: Institut
fur Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1978); especially see pp. iii-iv,


Any argument that Wordsworth's poetry is essentially rhetorical

must, of course, largely hinge upon questions of definition. Although

attempts to define rhetoric have invariably raised as many questions

as they have solved, Lloyd Bitzer, has eliminated many of these diffi-

culties by defining not what rhetoric is, but instead the situations

out of which it arises. As Bitzer notes in "The Rhetorical Situation,"

the origin of discourse determines whether it may legitimately be

considered rhetorical or not:

Neither the presence of formal features in the
discourse nor persuasive effect in a reader or
hearer can be regarded as reliable marks of
rhetorical discourse: A speech will be rhetori-
cal when it is a response to the kind of
situation which is rhetorical.1

Genuinely rhetorical discourse, as Bitzer understands it, arises out

of a specific situation for a specific purpose:

In short, rhetoric is a mode of altering reality,
not by the direct application of energy to
objects, but by the creation of discourse which
changes reality through the mediation of thought
and action. The rhetor alters reality by
bringing into existence a discourse of such a
character that the audience, in thought and
action, is so engaged that it becomes mediator of
("The Rhetorical Situation," p. 4)


Such a definition, based on origin of discourse rather than form or

effect, can, I believe, provide a useful as well as reasonably accurate

index of the degree to which Wordsworth's poetry may legitimately be

considered rhetorical.

Specifically, Bitzer contends that a truly rhetorical situation

possesses three distinguishing characteristics. First, it possesses

and recognizes an exigence, a "thing which is other than it should be"

that can only be altered through discourse. Only exigencies that can

be modified, and that can be modified only through discourse, are

properly rhetorical. Within any given rhetorical situation, at least

one "controlling exigence" serves to define the form and direction of

the ensuing discourse; as Bitzer explains, "it specifies the audience

to be addressed and the change to be effected" ("The Rhetorical Situa-

tion," p. 7). Secondly, Bitzer explains, a rhetorical situation must

be characterized by an audience. While conceding that an audience may

consist of the author alone or even of "ideal mind," Bitzer finally

suggests that a truly rhetorical audience is one not simply capable of

receiving knowledge or pleasure, but one capable of being altered in

some way, and in turn capable of inducing change:

It is clear also that a rhetorical audience must
be distinguished from a body of mere hearers or
readers: properly speaking, a rhetorical audience
consists only of those persons who are capable of
being influenced by discourse and of being
mediators of change.
("The Rhetorical Situation," p. 8)

Finally, a rhetorical situation is characterized by constraints, which

determine both what is said and how it is said. These, of course, vary


widely between any two given situations, but they include such elements

as "persons, events, objects, and relations" as well as "beliefs,

attitudes, documents, facts, traditions, images, interests, motives

and the like ." ("The Rhetorical Situation," p. 8). These

constraints can be supplied by either the situation or the author


Each of these three constituents figure predominantly in the

origins of Wordsworth's poetic work. As we have seen, Wordsworth's

sense of audience, especially in the blank verse, is generally obvious

and at times obtrusive. The degree to which a consciousness of

audience permeated all his verse may be seen in the "Preface" to

Lyrical Ballads, where he qualifies his loyalty to the neoclassical

doctrine of ut picture poesis in order to emphasize poetry's affinities

with discursive rather than purely representative arts:

It may be safely affirmed, that there neither is,
nor can be, any essential difference between the
language of prose and metrical composition. We
are fond of tracing the resemblance between
Poetry and Painting, and, accordingly, we call
them Sisters: but where shall we find bonds of
connection sufficiently strict to typify the
affinity betwixt metrical and prose composition?
They both speak by and to the same organs; the
bodies in which both of them are clothed may be
said to be of the same substance, their
affections are kindred, and almost identical,
not necessarily differing even in degree; Poetry
sheds no tears 'such as Angels weep,' but natural
and human tears; she can boast of no celestial
ichor that distinguishes her vital juices from
those of prose; the same human blood circulates
through the veins of them both.2

Not only are poetry and prose "clothed," he explains, in bodies that

"may be said to be of the same substance," but their "affections are

kindred." In the note appended to this passage, Wordsworth also

contrasts poetry with "Science" or the "Matter of Fact"; thus, the

"prose" with which he associates poetry in this passage is clearly

language used to move as well as inform its readers, and in insisting

upon his verse's identity with this form of discourse, Wordsworth

implicitly recognizes his poetry's essentially affective quality.3

Moreover, Wordsworth's profoundly rhetorical understanding of

his audience becomes even clearer as he customarily describes his

readership as a popular one. Echoing, in a letter to W. R. Hamilton

in 1838, Zeno of Citium's well-known description of logic as discourse

of the closed fist and rhetoric as discourse of the open palm,

Wordsworth recognizes two avenues through which the general public

can be moved:

There are obviously .two ways of affecting
the minds of men: the one by treating the matter
so as to carry it immediately to the sympathies
of the many, and the other by aiming at a few
select minds, that might each become a centre
for illustrating it in a popular way.4

Explaining, in the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads, that the poet is "a

man speaking to men," and that "poets do not write for poets alone,

but for men" (Prose Works, I, 143), Wordsworth obviously believed that

the poet is primarily engaged in popular discourse. In fact, even

during his greatest unpopularity, when he rejected the "Public" (his

present detractors) to embrace the "People" (an idealized yet nonethe-

less functional audience composed of the best readers, both present

and future), he nevertheless retained a lively concern with moving

and changing his audience.5


The exact nature of the change Wordsworth hoped to effect in his

readers can only be gauged, of course, from his understanding of the

exigencies with which he believed he was faced. These exigencies

were, throughout most of Wordsworth's career, both social and moral.

By early 1792, he had adopted a recognizably political stance, evident

in the revolutionary sentiments expressed in the closing lines of

Descriptive Sketches. The "Preface" to The Borderers and his revisions

to "Salisbury Plain" suggest that by 1795-1796 he had assumed the role

of moral teacher as well as social prophet. It was not, however,

until the winter of 1797-1798, when he and Coleridge planned the great

philosophical poem which finally became the unfinished Recluse, that

he adopted his mature definition of purpose:

Then, though, too weak to tread the ways of truth,
This age fall back to old idolatry,
Though men return to servitude as fast
as the tide ebbs, to ignominy and shame
By nations sink together, we shall still
Find solace in the knowledge which we have,
Blessed with true happiness if we may be
United helpers forward of a day
Of firmer trust, joint-labourers in a work
(Should Providence such grace to us vouchsafe)
Of their redemption, sure yet to come.
Prophets of Nature, we to them will speak
A lasting inspiration, sanctified
By reason and by truth; what we have loved,
Others will love; and we may teach them how;
Instruct them how the mind of man becomes
A thousand times more beautiful than the earth
On which he dwells .7

Writing many years later, Coleridge explained in more detail the two

poets' joint plan for The Recluse:

The plan laid out, and I believe, partly
suggested by me, was, that Wordsworth should
assume the station of a man in mental repose,
one whose principles were made up, and so
prepared to deliver upon authority a system of
philosophy. then he was to describe the
pastoral and other states of society, assuming
something of the Juvenalian spirit as he
approached a melancholy picture of the present
state of degeneracy and vice; thence he was to
infer and reveal the proof of, and necessity
for, the whole state of man and society being
subject to, and illustrative of, a redemptive
process in operation, showing how this idea
reconciled all the anomalies, and promised
future glory and restoration.8

As Wordsworth thus sought to inspire what he perceived to be a

spiritually dessicated and morally corrupted age, his sense of purpose

can only be described as "redemptive"; while this term is difficult to

define, I feel compelled to use it because it alone seems adequate

simultaneously to define, however roughly, Wordsworth's sense of public

responsibility and his confidence that his discourse could produce both

moral and spiritual effects in his readers, as well as to suggest his

evangelical and at times profoundly Christian vocabulary.

The conceptual basis for this purpose was the philosophy of the

"One Life" Wordsworth and Coleridge shared for a time, and it

immediately directed the work of both poets as each quickly produced a

tale of moral restoration; Coleridge wrote "The Rime of the Ancient

Mariner" in the winter of 1797-1798, and Wordsworth completed Peter Bell

the following summer. This same interest in elevating and purifying

his readers dominated Wordsworth's conception of his purpose in the

years immediately following. In 1802, he wrote to the youthful John

Wilson that "a great Poet ought to a certain degree rectify

men's feelings," while in 1807 he wrote to Sir George Beaumont that

"every great Poet is a Teacher: I wish either to be considered as a

Teacher, or as nothing."9

This same sense of purpose also controlled his later declamatory

blank verse and lyric productions alike. It formed, for example, the

heart of his "high argument" in the "Prospectus" to The Excursion:

Paradise, and groves
Elysian, Fortunate Fields -- like those of old
Sought in the Atlantic Main -- why should they be
A history only of departed things
Or a mere fiction of what never was?
For the discerning intellect of Man,
When wedded to this goodly universe
In love and holy passion, shall find these
A simple produce of the common day.
-- I, long before the blissful hour arrives,
Would chant, in lonely peace, the spousal verse
Of this great consummation: -- and, by words
Which speak of nothing more than what we are
Would I arouse the sensual from their sleep
Of Death, and win the vacant and the vain
To noble raptures .10

Even as late as 1842, this same union of millenial aspirations and

concern with elevating the human heart formed the theme of the "Prelude"

to the volume of miscellaneous verse entitled Poems Chiefly of Early

and Late Years:

But now, my Book!

Go forth upon a mission best fulfilled
When and wherever, in this changeful world
Power hath been given to please for higher ends
Than pleasure only; gladdening to prepare
For wholesome sadness, troubling to refine,
Calming to raise; and by a sapient Art
Diffused through all the mysteries of our Being,
Softening the toils and pains that have not ceased
To cast their shadows on our mother Earth
Since the primaeval doom.11

Defining the constraints that shape Wordsworth's poetry is

considerably more difficult, largely because of their multiplicity and

complexity. In recognizing two categories of constraints, though,

Bitzer considerably simplifies the task. Bitzer suggests, first of

all, that constraints consist of "those originated and managed by the

rhetor and his method," which he compares with Aristotle's "artistic

proofs"; secondly, he explains, they may include those restraints

arising out of the situation itself, which he equates with Aristotle's

inartisticc proofs" ("The Rhetorical Situation," p. 8). While the

latter, of course, vary with the given situation, the former may well

be suggested by those formal elements which, while not in themselves

constitutive of rhetorical discourse, do indicate, in the presence of

an identifiable audience and exigence, the degree to which an author

responds to these in an identifiably rhetorical way.

Wordsworth's acquaintance with classical rhetorical theory, which

began at Hawkshead grammar school, continued throughout his life; at

his death, he owned two copies of Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria
as well as many of Cicero's orations.2 Defining rhetoric as the

art of moving and convincing a popular audience, this classical tradi-

tion recognized three avenues of persuasion: ethos, the character of

the speaker; pathos, the appeal to the audience's emotions; and logos,

the appeal to the audience's reason. Treating rhetoric as a complete

art of discourse, including both the discovery and the presentation of

arguments, classical theory divided the art of popular speech into five

canons: invention, the art of discovering subject matter for discourse;

disposition, the art of arranging arguments for the best effect; style,


the art of presenting these arguments in the most refined, pleasing,

and moving way; delivery, the art of oral presentation; and memory,

the art of recollection. As Wordsworth responded to rhetorical exi-

gencies through these avenues, this tradition helped form the founda-

tion for his rhetorical use of language.

Ben Ross Schneider has suggested how the works of classical

rhetoric first proved instrumental in helping lay the foundations for

Wordsworth's rhetorical use of language. While at Cambridge, Schneider

explains, Wordsworth discovered a social view of man opposing William

Paley's ethic of self-interest which dominated the university during

the young poet's years of study there.3 Implicit, of course, in this

social view of man is an intrinsically rhetorical view of language as

a means of evaluation and persuasion rather than a medium for merely

information or expression alone. Thus admiring the Roman orator's view

of man and society, and especially his tendency to link virtue to

freedom, the young poet almost unconsciously adopted a rhetorical view

of language.14

This classical tradition exerted an even more tangible influence

upon Wordsworth, though, as it provided the framework for his develop-

ing style. During the late eighteenth century, classical rhetorical

theory survived primarily as a part of the traditional Latin curriculum

in the grammar schools and universities. Stressing the imitation of

Latin masters and the composition of Latin declamations, this curric-

ulum had the effect of making a consciously rhetorical style

practically inseparable from Latinate diction and syntax.5 This

Latinate style appears in Wordsworth's early poetry, echoing, as

Schneider has demonstrated, in the verse of An Evening Walk and

Descriptive Sketches as well as in the prose style of his unpublished

"Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff."16 The maturing poet, though, soon

abandoned this style; as he recalls in Book VI of The Prelude, as a

student he was

Misled in estimating words .

by the trade in classic niceties,
The dangerous craft of culling term and phrase
From languages that want the living voice
To carry meaning to the natural heart;
To tell us what is passion, what is truth,
What reason, what simplicity and sense.
(The Prelude, VI, 107, 109-114: 1850)

Even as he abandoned an artificially ornamental style, though,

Wordsworth did not sever his connection with classical theories of

style; for the headnote to the 1802 edition of Lyrical Ballads, he

cited the classical authority of Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria

to justify his own experiments in poetic language.17

The degree to which Wordsworth's blank verse arose out of

genuinely rhetorical situations is, perhaps, most visible in the "Lines

composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey." Although this most well-

known of Wordsworth's poems has endured almost ceaseless critical

scrunity since its publication, I would like to subject it to analysis

once again, primarily because of its rhetorical importance; as the

earliest public exposition of Wordsworth's philosophy of the One Life,

"Tintern Abbey" offers an unparalleled glimpse into the rhetorical

origins of the poet's redemptive verse.


As audience, exigence, and constraints all met in its composition,

"Tintern Abbey" was clearly rhetorical in its genesis. Wordsworth's

sense of poetic exigence, of course, had already been generally formu-

lated in the great redemptive purpose associated with the philosophy of

the One Life he substantially borrowed from Coleridge the previous

winter. When Wordsworth took a four day walking tour of the Wye river

valley with Dorothy in July, 1798, this sense of exigence met with a

sympathetic and receptive audience capable of simultaneously focusing

this sense of purpose and supplying a concrete liaison, as it were, with

his larger reading public. In an older brother's admonitions to his

"dear, dear Sister," Wordsworth discovered both the immediate impetus

to rhetorical action and an ideal situation in which to assume the

benevolently adjuratory persona Coleridge described: "a man in mental

repose, one whose principles were made up, and so prepared to deliver

upon authority a system of philosophy."

The degree to which this union of audience and exigence resulted

in an overtly redemptive intentionality is evident in the poet's

presiding language as he seeks to effect in his sister what can only be

described as a religious conversion. Describing himself as a devout

worshipperr of nature .. unwearied in that service," the poet of

these lines urges his sister, like himself, to discover in a communion

with nature not only the traditional Christian virtues of "faith" (1.

133), "hope" (1. 65), and "love" (1. 155), but also an evangelical

"joy" (1. 94) and "zeal" (1. 154) capable of sustaining her both

through the "dreary intercourse of daily life" (1. 131) and the inevi-

table losses ("solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief," 1. 143) of human

existence. While the poet's voice ranges from confessional in his

opening account of his own "natural" regeneration to invocatory ("this

prayer I make") in the closing lines, his overriding purpose, as he

makes clear when he anticipates his future separation from Dorothy, is


oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations!18

This prevailing hortatory impulse generates in "Tintern Abbey" a

language that is both discursive and confessional; as the poet seeks

to guide his sister toward a spiritual insight and equilibrium ideally

culminating the visionary exultation she now enjoys, its function can

best be described as sermonic. As a sermon, "Tintern Abbey" seeks to

move and persuade its audience through the traditionally public avenues

of argument--assertion, proof, rebuttal, amplification, and applica-

tion--dominating classical rhetorical theory. In fact, classical

theory channeled these avenues of persuasion through the six divisions

it generally recognized in persuasive discourses; as "Tintern Abbey's"

five verse paragraphs echo these divisions, demonstrably rhetorical

constraints dominate its structural as well as syntactical architec-

Although this classical influence is least obtrusive in the

initial verse paragraph, it is nevertheless operative. Classical

rhetoric generally divided the introduction into two parts: the

exordium, or opening, and the narratio, or presentation of necessary


background material. Both of these residually appear in this initial

paragraph. In the recollective and meditative tones of these opening

lines, for example, the poet echoes recommendations by such classical

texts as the Rhetorica ad Herennium for reference to the speaker's

self in the exordium as a means of creating a well-disposed audience.20

Similarly, the opening sentence ("Five years have past; five summers,

with the length / Of five long winters!") perhaps reflect the emphasis,

in the classical narratio, upon both brevity and chronological order in

the presentation of background information.21
From this point, Wordsworth's poetic argument is framed in an

unmistakably classical disposition. The second verse paragraph, like

the classical division, distributes the poet's lines of argument into

distinct heads. Insisting, in this paragraph, upon nature's power to

morally regenerate, the poet explains that the forms of nature,

operating through the senses and the memory, can first of all compose

and regulate the passions:

But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owned to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration.
(11. 22-30)

This "restoration," in turn, culminates in active virtue as these

sensations "have no slight or trivial influence / On that best portion

of a good man's life, / His little, nameless, unremembered, acts / Of

kindness and of love" (11. 32-35). Secondly, he explains, the

receptive mind also owes to the forms of nature "another gift," a

visionary insight that both spiritually elevates and enlightens:

that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lightened: . .

And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
(11. 38-42, 45-50)

As in the classical division, these heads define both the scope and

order of progression of the poet's ensuing argument.

Classical rhetoric, in turn, also recognized the need for a

confutatio, or refutation of opposing evidence and interpretations, to

accompany the presentation of the speaker's argument. Similarly, in

the third verse paragraph the poet abruptly interrupts the progress of

his argument to refute doubts arising out of rational scepticism:

If this
Be but a vain belief, yet oh! how oft --
In darkness, and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart --
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou Wanderer thro' the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
(11. 49-57)

Formally, this refutation consists of a single apostrophe to the river

Wye. Distracted by his revulsion for the past and his gratitude for

the river's presence, the poet attempts three times grammatically to

stabilize his overwhelming waves of feeling into a single coherent

statement; even as he snatches his primary assertion ("How often has

my spirit turned to thee!") back from these passionate digressions,

though, feeling overpowers the reason's misgivings ("If this / Be but

a vain belief") with the irrefutable testimony of experience.

Structurally, then, in this proleptic paragraph of confutatio the

rhetorical constraints of classical disposition provided Wordsworth with

an avenue through which to meet the strongest situational constraint

facing him, his reading public's sceptical predispositions.

The appeal to personal experience introduced in the refutation

also dominates the fourth verse paragraph; in this confirmation, or

proof of his argument, the poet follows the order established in the

division to explain nature's power to humanize, then spiritualize, the

mind in communion with its visible forms. First inspiring "aching

joys" and "dizzy raptures" in the youth who "like a roe bounded

o'er the mountains," the forms of nature, he explains, have finally

integrated the mature poet into society:

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.
(11. 88-93)

Such a socialization, of course, forms the basis for the moral

amelioration the poet claims in the division; as he hears the "still,

sad music of humanity," the boy, earlier given to "coarser pleasures"

(1. 73), is quietly prepared for the mature narrator's "little,

nameless, unremembered, acts / Of kindness and of love" (11. 33-34).

As the poet is thus taught by nature, his spiritual integration


culminates as the One Life he perceives impinges upon his being with

a disturbing yet elevating "presence."

Finally, just as the classical conclusion amplified and applied

the speaker's previous arguments in the order in which they were

earlier presented, so in the final verse paragraph the poet reinforces

his previous arguments by repeating his faith that nature

can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us .
(11. 125-132)

As the poet directly addresses his "dear, dear Sister" in these closing

lines, he not only applies as well as repeats his previous arguments;

he also rhetorically focuses the confessional tones of his previous

argument from experience in their ultimately hortatory function.

The rhetorical constraints operative in "Tintern Abbey," however,

are not limited to its disposition; in this poem's formal patterns of

balance, antithesis, and repetition, its style equally demonstrates the

influence of classical rhetoric. Although I shall only briefly mention

these patterns, they supplement the formal disposition by creating a

declamatory tone reminiscent of the grand style of classical oratory.

These repetitions first appear in the sophisticated anaphora structuring

the introductory paragraph:

again I hear / These waters (11. 2,3)
Once again / Do I behold these cliffs (11. 4,5)
I again repose / Here under this dark sycamore (11. 9,10)
Once again I see / These hedge-rows (11. 15,16)

Similar syntactical balance and repetition form the structural frame-

work for the following paragraphs. Wordsworth uses such, for example,

to structure his division C"that blessed mood / In which the burden of

the mystery is lightened": "that serene and blessed mood / In

which the affections gently lead us on"); the confutatio is similarly

structured by the triple repetition of "how oft." A strong antithesis

structures the poet's bipartite argument in the confirmation ("For I

have learned And I have felt"), while the closing admonitions are

likewise governed by a strong parallelism and balance ("Nor, perchance

wilt thou then forget Nor wilt thou then forget.")

In the Fenwick note to "Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth recalled that

"Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till

I reached Bristol"; inasmuch as these lines are fundamentally oral in

their conception as well as their composition, it is hardly surprising

to discover Wordsworth adopting in them a rhetoric so intimately
linked and adapted to oral discourse. The six-part division of the

classical discourse provided a simply adopted and easily comprehended

pattern of organization, while the formal style, though elevated in

tone, actually provided a syntactical foundation for relatively simple

patterns of repetition and variation equally well suited to oral

composition. This classical superstructure, however, is permeated with

what may be considered a second rhetoric. This rhetoric, no less than

the classical, seeks to limit and direct its readers' responses, but


through the identification of auditor with speaker, rather than through

the more rational and "public" processes of assertion and proof. Thus,

while classical disposition structures "Tintern Abbey"'s sermonic

function, this second rhetoric governs its testimonial function.

This testimonial undercurrent rhetorically dominates the intro-

ductory paragraph, transforming its descriptions into a prophetic

enactment of the poet's subsequent argument. The spiritual drama

enacted in these lines begins as the poet awakens from the tedious and

ill-defined passage of time echoed in the pleonasm of the opening lines

("Five years have past; five summers, with the length / Of five long

winters"); in the present landscape, this dark and chaotic past slowly

melts before the vivacity of the natural forms before him as his mind

opens first to aural, then visual stimuli:

again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur. -- Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
(11. 2-8, emphasis mine)

This awakening is initially accompanied by a sense of spiritual isola-

tion as the seclusion of the landscape arouses "thoughts of more deep

seclusion." These thoughts, however, are healed by the very scene

that arouses them as the "steep and lofty cliffs" finally "connect /

The landscape with the quiet of the sky."

Wordsworth apparently discovered in Milton's Paradise Lost a model

for this awakening to spiritual presence through the forms of nature;


the poet's description of this process resembles in both detail and

general progression Eve's account of her awakening to consciousness in

Book IV of Milton's poem, and Adam's, in Book VIII. For example, just

as Eve awakens to the "murmuring sound / Of waters" and Adam to the

"liquid Lapse of murmuring Streams," so Wordsworth's poet first hear
"waters, rolling with a soft inland murmur."23 Similarly, as

Eve, upon her awakening, "found my self repos'd / Under a shade," so

Wordsworth's poet finds "repose / Here, under this dark sycamore."

Though Adam's and Eve's descriptions are quite similar in general

progression, the actual process of awakening in "Tintern Abbey" is

closest to Eve's account:

That day I oft remember, when from sleep
I first awak'd, and found my self repos'd
Under a shade on flours, much wondering where
And what I was, whence thither brought, and how.
Not distant farr from thence a murmuring sound
Of waters issued from a Cave and spred
Into a liquid Plain, then stood unmov'd
Pure as th' expanse of Heav'n; I thither went
With unexperienc't thought, and laid me down
On the green bank, to look into the deer
Smooth Lake, that to me seemed another Skie.
(Paradise Lost IV, 449-459)

For Wordsworth's poet, as for Milton's Eve, the awakening to the

natural world culminates in a gesture toward spiritual insight in the

union of heaven and earth; as Eve look "into the deer / Smooth Lake,

that to me seemed another Skie," so Wordsworth's poet views the cliffs

which "connect / The landscape with the quiet of the sky."

In the spirituality of his awakening, though, Wordsworth's poet is

decidedly Adamic. Although consciousness leads Eve to question the

origin and agency of her creation ("much wondering where / And what I


was, whence thither brought and how"), the unified vision of heaven and

earth she attains is the product of her naivete; in her "unexperienc't

thought" she cannot distinguish between reflection and reality, and

this confusion foreshadows her later glimmerings of mortal vanity as

she unwittingly gives her own reflection in the pool the adoration

properly reserved for God. Adam, however, is seduced by no such reflec-

tions; instead, his direct and unhampered vision of heaven leads

immediately to his elevation and instinctive spiritual awareness:

As new-wak't from soundest sleep
Soft on the flourie herb I found me laid

Straight toward Heav'n my wondering Eyes I turned,
And gaz'd a while the ample Skie, till rais'd
By quick instinctive motion up I sprung,
As thitherward endevoring, and upright
Stood on my feet.
(Paradise Lost VIII, 253-254, 257-261)

Thus, while Eve's vision is confused, and ultimately earth-bound, by

reflection, Adam passes through self-consciousness ("My self I then

perus'd, and Limb by Limb / Surveyd") without self-love; as a result,

he directly acknowledges presence in the world other than his own,

recognizing from the creation the necessary existence of "some great

Maker then, / In goodness and in power praeeminent" (VIII, 279-280).

Similarly, in "Tintern Abbey" the poet's awakening to the natural

world concludes in his recognition of spiritual presence. This

acknowledgment, which begins with the union of earth and heaven as the

cliffs "connect / The landscape with the quiet of the sky," continues

when, turning from the cliffs' "wild seclusion" to the surrounding

"pastoral farms," he sees signs of habitation:

wreathes of smoke
Sent up in silence from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Of of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.
(11. 17-21)

These signs occasion the brief imaginative sally that concludes this

initial paragraph; in it, the poet's description of the landscape

becomes prophetic as the Hermit and the "vagrant dwellers" he fanci-

fully projects foreshadow, in the mystery and tenuousness of their

existence, the ambient spirit of nature he later identifies as "A

presence that disturbs me with the joy / Of elevated thoughts; a sense

sublime / Of something far more deeply interfused."

The degree to which the rhetoric of "Tintern Abbey" functions

beyond its classical disposition, though, becomes clearest in the

sacramental language the poet uses following this prophetic enactment

of the spiritual awakening he hopes to encourage. As the poet argues

throughout for nature's power to lead to moral improvement and

spiritual enlightenment, he grants its forms a sacramental quality;

nature, he explains, can "so feed with lofty thoughts" (emphasis mine)

that it can sustain through loss and dreariness those who commune with

it. This sacramental power, however, is localized in the present

landscape. Recalling the strength of earlier memories to sustain him

in the past, the poet anticipates future solace from the present


The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts

That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.
(11. 61-63, emphasis mine)

As these lines indicate, the poet's redemptive nature is in fact a

strongly subjective one; linked as it is to the present, this nature

belongs to the "mighty world / Of eye, and ear, -- both what they half

create, / And what perceive" (11. 105-107). As a result, the nature

to which the poet calls his sister to communion is not the nature of

his boyhood, the nature she presently shares; this nature which was in

his boyhood an "appetite" and which even now inspires in her "wild

ecstasies," is characterized by absence and desire. The nature that

supplies "life and food / For future years" is, finally, the nature of

the poet's present description.

As this redemptive nature is, finally, subjective, the restora-

tive and sustaining presence in nature becomes in fact the poet's own.

Just as Christ's presence is spiritually embodied in the sacrament, so

the poet's presence is embodied in nature through his description of

it; the redemption "Tintern Abbey" offers thus comes through the

reader's communion with the poet's embodied presence in the second

nature of the text. The "life" of nature is, for the audience at

least, the poet's life, and as in his redemptive description nature is

textualized, the word itself offers sacramental sustenance, enacting,

as it were, the conclusion of Christ's communal discourse in the

gospel of John: "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and

they are life" (John 6:63). Thus, in this second, "testimonial"

rhetoric, the poet not only enacts an Adamic awakening; in his evangel-

ical zeal, he ultimately aspires to a Messianic role as the "second


Adam" described by the apostle Paul: "The first man Adam was made a

living soul, the second man Adam was made a quickening spirit"

(I Corinthians 15:45).

"Tintern Abbey," then, is demonstrably rhetorical, not merely in

disposition, but in origin and function as well, and much of Wordsworth's

later blank verse similarly grew out of genuinely rhetorical situations.

In his exasperated response to The Excursion, John Keats attempted to

separate this rhetorical impulse permeating the blank verse from what

he considered the most worthwhile parts of Wordsworth's poetry: "For

the sake of a few fine imaginative or domestic passages, are we to be

bullied into a certain philosophy engendered in the whims of an

egotist?''24 However, as we have seen in what I have called "Tintern

Abbey"'s "testimonial" rhetoric, Wordsworth's rhetorical and poetic

idioms cannot be so easily divided as Keats seems to imply. Imagina-

tion becomes, in the introduction, enactment; description, the locus

of the poet's redemptive presence. Since it is, ultimately, this

second rhetoric of enactment rather than the classical rhetoric of

assertion that shaped most of Wordsworth's poetry, I shall explore its

origins, scope, and effects upon Wordsworth's poetics in the following

two chapters.


Lloyd F. Bitzer, "The Rhetorical Situation," Philosophy and
Rhetoric 1 (January, 1968), 9-10; Subsequent references will be paren-

2The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W. J. B. Owen and
Jane Worthington Smyser, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), I,
135. All subsequent references to Wordsworth's prefaces and other
critical essays will be cited parenthetically from this edition, here-
after cited as Prose Works.

3See Wordsworth's note in the 1850 version of the "Preface" to
Lyrical Ballads: "I here use the word 'Poetry' (though against my own
judgment) as opposed to the word Prose, and synonymous with metrical
composition. But much confusion has been introduced into criticism
by this contradistinction of Poetry and Prose, instead of the more
philosophical one of Poetry and Matter of Fact, or Science. The only
strict antithesis to Prose is Metre; nor is this, in truth, a strict
antithesis, because lines and passages of metre so naturally occur in
writing prose, that it would be scarcely possible to avoid them, even
were it desirable" (Prose Works, I, 135).

4The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth; The Later Years:
1821-1850, ed. Ernest De Selincourt (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939),
II, 911. For Zeno of Citium's description of logic and rhetoric, see
Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, II, 20. 7, and Cicero, Orator, 32.

For Wordsworth's distinction between the "Public" and the
"People," see his letter to Lady Beaumont, 21 May 1807, in The Letters
of William and Dorothy Wordsworth; The Middle Years: 1806-1820, ed.
Ernest De Selincourt (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937), I, 125-126, and
the "Preface" to the edition of 1815, in Prose Works, III, 84. In
"Wordsworth, The Problem of Communication, and John Dennis," in
Wordsworth's Mind and Art, ed. A. W. Thomson (New York: Barnes and
Noble, 1969), pp. 140-156, W. J. B. Owen examines the origins of this

In the 1795-c. 1799 revision of "Salisbury Plain," Wordsworth
dropped the discursive argument concluding the original version and
shifted his emphasis to the operations of conscience and remorse in
the traveller. In the "Preface" to The Borderers, he notes that it
is the "general Moral" of his play "to shew the dangerous use which
may be made of reason when a man has committed a great crime" Prose
Works, I, 79.

The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet's Mind, ed. Ernest De Selincourt,
rev. Helen Darbishire, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959),
XIII, 431-448. Unless otherwise indicated, all subsequent parenthetical
references will be made to the 1805-1806 version of this poem.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk, July 12, 1832, cited from
The Table Talk and Omniana of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (London: Oxford
Univ. Press, 1917), pp. 188-189.

To Wilson, in The Early Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth
(1787-1805), ed. Ernest De Selincourt (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935),
p. 295; to Beaumont, in The Middle Years, I, 170.

10The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, ed. Ernest De Selincourt
and Helen Darbishire, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940-1949),
V, 4-5. Subsequent references to this edition will be made to Poetical

P1oetical Works, IV, 176-177.
12See "The Rydal Mount Library Catalogue," in Transactions of the
Wordsworth Society, VI (1884; rpt. W. Dawson and Sons, 1966), pp. 195-
257, lots 389 and 413 (Quintilian) and lots 346, 347, 348, 350, 383,
and 546 (Cicero). In Wordsworth's Reading of Roman Prose (New Haven:
Yale Univ. Press, 1946), p. 13, Jane Worthington [Smyser] also notes
references to "Ciceronis opera" in a catalog of his library made by
Dora in 1829. In Wordsworth's Cambridge Education (Cambridge: Cambridge
Univ. Press, 1957), pp. 68-72, Ben Ross Schneider discusses Wordsworth's
probable knowledge of Cicero at Cambridge.

13Schneider, pp. 10-11.

14See Worthington [Smyser], pp. 19 ff.

15See, for example, Schneider, pp. 70-71. On the eighteenth
century adaptation of Ciceronian rhetoric, see Wilbur Samuel Howell,
Eighteenth-Century British Logic and Rhetoric (Princeton: Princeton
Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 75-142, passim.

16See Schneider, pp. 68-76, passim. Schneider classifies Words-
worth's "classic niceties" as "displaced modifiers, sentences without
verbs, numerous participial phrases, ablative absolutes, the inversion
of normal word order, and the suspension of the verb until the end of
the sentence" (p. 68).

17"Pectus est enim, quod disertos facit, et vis mentis. Ideoque
imperitis quoque, si modo sint aliquo adfectu concitati, verba non
desunt," from Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria, X. vii. 15. Wordsworth
earlier cited this same passage in a letter to Charles James Fox on
January 14, 1801; see The Early Letters, pp. 312-315.
1Citations from "Tintern Abbey" will come from Poetical Works, II.
pp. 259-263.
1The Rhetorica ad Herennium, which the eighteenth century still
popularly attributed to Cicero, divided the public address into opening
(exordium), presentation of pertinent background information (narratio),

distribution of argument into heads division) proof or argument
confirmation) refutation of adversaries (confutatio), and conclusion
conclusion) ; see I. iii. 4. In the Institutio Oratoria, Quintilian
divides the forensic address into exordium, statement of facts, proof,
refutation, and peroration (III. ix. 1); in De Inventione I. xiv. 19,
Cicero divides the discourse into exordium, narrative, partition,
confirmation, refutation, and peroration.
20hetorica ad Herenniu, I. iii. 4.
2Rhetorica ad Herennium, I. ii. 4.

Rhetorica ad Herennium, I. ix. 15.
See Poetical Works, II. 517.
2All citations from Paradise Lost are taken from The Poetical
Works of John Milton, ed. Helen Darbishire,I (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1952); subsequent references will be parenthetical.
John Keats to J. R. Reynolds, February 3, 1818, in The Poetical
and Other Writings of John Keats, ed. H. Buxton Forman (London: Reeves
and Turner, 1889), III, 112-113.


"Tintern Abbey"'s testimonial language, no less than its sermonic

structure, was supported by a coherent rhetorical tradition, one which

in fact proved predominant in Wordsworth's redemptive verse. Develop-

ing during the second half of the eighteenth century, this rhetoric

was the composite product of a miscellaneous group of rhetoricians who

reformulated the principles of persuasion from the philosophical

perspectives of empiricism and associationism. In Eighteenth-Century

British Logic and Rhetoric, Wilbur Samuel Howell calls this disparate

group the "new rhetoricians"; chief among them were Lord Kames (Elements

of Criticism, 1762), George Campbell (The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 1776),

Joseph Priestley (A Course of Lectures on Oratory and Belles Lettres,

1777), Hugh Blair (Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, 1783), and

Adam Smith (whose Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, unpublished

until 1963, were delivered at Edinburgh from 1748 to 1751 and exercised

considerable influence upon both Kames and Blair, who attended them).1

As W. J. B. Owen acknowledges, Wbrdsworth's poetic theory was rooted

in the Scottish philosophy shared by these rhetoricians, and although

these rhetoricians differed in a number of significant ways, collec-

tively they anticipated, and perhaps suggested, many salient points of

Wordsworth's poetics: his tendency, which we have already seen, to

neglect traditional distinctions between poetry and prose for what he


considered more important distinctions between informative and affec-

tive language, his preoccupation with transforming affective language

from discourse to experience, and his interest in the ways in which

language can create morally as well as socially ameliorative effects.2

Wordsworth and the New Rhetoric

The exact extent of Wordsworth's familiarity with the new

rhetoricians is not clear; however, his acquaintance with their work

may well have begun at Hawkshead. Two years after Wordsworth's gradu-

ation in 1787, the headmaster, Thomas Bowman, established the so-called

"New Library" to supplement the earlier one left by Daniel Rawlinson.

That year, Wordsworth joined with three classmates to contribute a

four-volume history of ancient Greece; at the same time, the library

also received copies of Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles

Lettres. In the five years following, Hawkshead's "New Library" also

received copies of Lord Kames's Elements of Criticism (in 1791), Joseph

Priestley's A Course of Lectures on Oratory and Belles Lettres (in

1793) as well as George Campbell's The Philosophy of Rhetoric and Adam

Smith's "Theory of Moral sentiments, to which is added a Dissertation
on the Origin of Languages" (both in 1794). In these acquisitions, the

school demonstrated an apparent interest in the new rhetoric that may

well have begun before Wordsworth left for Cambridge. Moreover,

evidence suggests that Wordsworth was acquainted with Joseph Priestley

--or at least with his works--during his stay in London after

leaving Cambridge. Joseph Johnson, who published Priestley's works,

also published Wordsworth's Descriptive Sketches, and the young poet,


sharing at the time common political sympathies as well as an interest

in Hartlian associationism with Priestley, may well have been stimu-

lated to read the older philosopher's works.5

The surest evidence of Wordsworth's familiarity with the presid-

ing ideas of the new rhetoricians, though, lies in his work itself, and

a number of critics have noted the similarities between his poetic

theory and practice and the work of these rhetoricians. Mary Jacobus,

for example, has recognized affinities between the language of "The

Thorn" and Priestley's description of figurative language.6 Blair's

influence upon Wordsworth's theory has been recognized since Arthur

Beatty directly related the two in William Wordsworth: His Doctrine

and Art in Their Historical Relations. E. C. Knowlton pursued this

connection further in his 1927 article "Wordsworth and Hugh Blair,"

while Samuel Monk argued for Blair's general influence upon "pre-

Romanticism" in The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII
Century England. Later, Scott Elledge recognized the influence of

Kames and Campbell, as well as Blair, upon the developing interest in

particularity Wordsworth shared. As a result of these obvious affini-

ties, even P. W. K. Stone, who argues in The Art of Poetry 1750-1820

that Romantic theory broke sharply with these rhetoricians, is forced

to describe the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads as a "pre-romantic"


Despite their individual differences, the new rhetoricians as a

group effected two consequential innovations in rhetorical theory.

Vincent M. Bevilacqua summarizes the scope of their contribution to

rhetorical theory:

The view of rhetoric which developed in the
three decades between Adam Smith's Edinburgh
lectures on rhetoric (1748-50) and Hugh Blair's
Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783)
stands out in the history of rhetorical thought
as the most far-reaching reformation of tradition-
al theory since Peter Ramus's partition of the
trivium in the mid-sixteenth century. During
this period, acceptance of the scientific method
altered historical views of the scope and
function of rhetoric, while application of the
scientific method to the study of human nature
reoriented rhetorical theory in terms of man's
moral and mental constitution.11

In these two innovations, the new rhetoricians simultaneously echoed

and may well have encouraged the changing ideas about the experience

of reading as well as the aims of discourse that form the controlling

tensions of Wordsworth's poetics.

First, the new rhetoricians "altered historical views of the scope

and function of language" by effectively conflating poetry and rhetoric

into a single theory of discourse. The complex historical background

of this conflation begins in classical theory, which, while distinguish-

ing between rhetoric as the art of popular speech and poetry as the art

of imitation, also recognized the common interest of these two forms of

discourse in giving pleasure as well as their shared vocabulary of
figurative language.2 The Ramistic reforms of the sixteenth century

encouraged this conflation of the two affective language arts by

assigning all questions of invention and disposition--the discovery

and arrangement of materials--to logic, and all questions of style

and delivery to rhetoric; though thus reduced in scope, "rhetoric"

gradually came to encompass all communication theory.3 This gradual

realignment was encouraged by a number of French texts, appearing


between 1672 and 1734, which overtly encompassed all forms of discourse

in their exposition of rhetorical theory. Early English translations

of these, such as the 1706 version of The Whole Critical Works of

Monsieur Rapin and the 1728 edition of Bouhours's The Arts of Logick

and Rhetorick, translated the new, inclusive term "belles lettres" into

such equivalents as "polite letters." As early as 1710, though,

Jonathan Swift introduced the terminology of the French critics to

English audiences in Tatler, No. 230; and when the popular 1734 trans-

lation of Rollin's Method of Teaching and Studying the Belles Lettres

transliterated "belles lettres," it firmly established a term, until

then lacking in English critical vocabulary, for the composite entity

including all forms of literature as well as the disciplines used in

the composition and analysis of them.14

As the titles of their texts suggest, the new rhetoricians

enthusiastically embraced this new terminology. Not only did these

rhetoricians, like the French, treat poetry and persuasion in the same

texts; they frequently neglected to distinguish between the two arts,

or else directly insisted upon their essential unity. Neither Adam

Smith nor Joseph Priestley, for example, seem to have thought the

distinction between poetry and rhetoric very significant; both were

content merely to associate poetry with pleasure, and the super-

ficiality of their remarks reflects the slight importance they accorded

to any such distinction.5 George Campbell more seriously tried to

define poetry by associating it with what he called the figurative or

the "veiled." Even so, he emphasized its essential identity with


Poetry indeed is properly no other than a
particular mode or form of certain branches
of oratory. .. The same medium, language,
is made use of; the same general rules of
composition, in narration, description,
argumentation, are observed; and the same
tropes and figures, either for beautifying
or for invigorating the diction, are
employed by both. In regard to versifica-
tion, it is more to be considered as an
appendage, than as a constituent of poetry.

Wordsworth's argument, then, in the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads that

poetry is an art of discourse rather than or imitation alone, and his

distinction between expository and affective language rather than

between verse and prose, clearly locates him, at least in general

orientation, in this rhetorical tradition.

The second major development of the new rhetoricians noted by

Bevilacqua -- their unprecedented attention to the "science" of human

nature and their care to base their theories of language upon the

general laws governing human psychology -- similarly appears as a

cornerstone of Wordsworth's theory. Lord Kames was the first to adopt

such a scientific approach when he adopted a two-part division of

analysis and synthesis in the Elements of Criticism first to explore

the principles of human nature, then formulate and apply the rules he

discovered to rhetoric, poetry, and criticism. The popularity of this

scientific ambition may be gauged by the Critical Review's enthusiastic


Kames's accurate criticism .. if we mistake
not, will render him, in the critical art, what
Bacon, Locke, and Newton, are in philosophy --
the parent of regulated taste, the creator of
metaphysical criticism, the first interpreter

of our feelings, and of the voice of nature,
and the lawgiver of capricious genius, upon
principles too evident to be controverted.17

Later, Joseph Priestley expressly built his rhetorical theory upon the

foundation of David Hartley's psychology, while George Campbell

demonstrated an ambition similar to Kames's as he claimed as his goal

to exhibit .. a tolerable sketch of the
human mind; and aided by the lights which the
Poet and Orator so amply furnish, to disclose
its secret movements and, on the other
hand, from the science of human nature, to
ascertain with greater precision, the radical
principles of that art, whose object it is,
by the use of language, to operate on the
soul of the hearer, in the way of informing,
convincing, pleasing, moving, or persuading.18

In the same way, Wordsworth deferred presenting his theory of language

systematically in the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads because he could

not do so "without pointing out in what manner language and the human

mind act and re-act on each other .. .19

Perhaps most significant though, is Wordsworth's philosophical

affinities with these eighteenth-century rhetoricians, his determina-

tion to found his affective language upon essentially the same under-

standing of the nature of belief and persuasion. As W. J. B. Owen notes

in reference to the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads,

The work is thus to an unusual degree representative
of eighteenth-century thought on the working of
the human mind in general, and on the production
of art, especially poetry, in particular.20

Philosophically, Owen attributes that background -- however indirectly

-- to John Locke and David Hartley:

His basic psychology at this time is the
associationistic psychology of Locke and
Hartley: not, as I think, because he was, as
Arthur Beatty supposed, a deep student of
Hartley, but because the eighteenth century
hardly knew any other system.21

Rhetorically, however, David Hume exerted the greatest influence. As

John Patton notes in "Experience and Imagination: Approaches to

Rhetoric by John Locke and David Hume," it was Hume who laid the

foundations for the new rhetoric and, I believe, also for Wordsworth.22

Therefore, without suggesting that Wordsworth was a deep -- much less

enthusiastic -- student of Hume, I would like to explore the similari-

ties between Hume's theory of belief, his call for a restoration of

"ancient eloquence," and Wordsworth's theory of the literature of

power; not, primarily, to insist upon a direct influence, but to illu-

minate the rhetorical foundations of Wordsworth's poetics.

Hume and Wordsworth: The Rhetoric of Sympathy

As a result of his rigidly sensational epistemology, Locke viewed

the affective use of language suspiciously, charging rhetoric with

engaging in "reflection" (a secondary mode of experience, including

"perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, knowing, [and]

willing") prior to, or at least without the immediate benefit of,
"sensation," the primary mode of experience.23 Consequently, Locke

describes the practice of rhetoric as a conspiracy between the deceiver

and the deceived:

It is evident how much men love to deceive
and be deceived, since rhetoric, that powerful
instrument of error and deceit, has its
established professors, is publicly taught,
and has always been in great reputation .
And it is in vain to find fault with those
arts of deceiving, wherein men find pleasure
to be deceived.24

Earlier in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke outlines

what he considers the proper use of language:

To conclude this consideration of the
imperfection and abuse of language; the ends
of language in our discourse with others,
being chiefly these three: first, to make
known one man's thoughts or ideas to another;
secondly, to do it with as much ease and
quickness as possible; and thirdly, thereby
to convey the knowledge of things: language is
either abused or deficient when it fails of
any of these three.25

Such a definition of the proper boundaries of discourse not only

limited invention to sensorily-derived ideas; it left little room for

appeals to emotion or passion. No further than Locke apparently

addressed himself to the rhetorical implications of his epistemology,

John Patton's conclusions seem inevitable:

In sum, the Lockean epistemology confronts
us with the dilemma of a rhetoric restricted
to the transmission of information derived
from the direct sensation of objects or, on
the other hand, a rhetoric which is mere

A rhetoric limited to the communication of ideas derived from

sensation, though, obviously poses real problems for persuasive

discourse. In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume

recognized that the possibility of communicating a "knowledge of

things" depends upon the sharing of sensation; without common experi-

ence by speaker and listener, no true communication can take place:

If it happen, from a defect of the organ, that
a man is not susceptible of any species of
sensation, we always find that he is as little
susceptible of the correspondent ideas. A
blind man can form no notion of colours; a deaf
man of sounds.27

As Hume continues here, he recognizes that a similar difficulty con-

fronts all attempts at moral communication:

And though there are few or no instances of
a like deficiency in the mind, where a person
has never felt or is wholly incapable of a
sentiment or passion that belongs to his
species, yet we may find the same observation
to take place in a less degree. A man of mild
manners can form no idea of inveterate revenge
or cruelty; nor can a selfish heart easily
conceive the heights of friendship and
generosity. It is readily allowed, that other
beings may possess many senses of which we can
have no conception; because the ideas of them
have never been introduced to us in the only
manner by which an idea can have access to the
mind, to wit, by the actual feeling and
(Enquiry, II. i. 15)

The limitations strict empiricism imposed upon rhetoric, then, are

evident; feeling cannot be aroused where it has not previously existed,

nor ideas communicated where they are not already rooted in experience.

Consequently, as Patton suggests, Locke's definition of the legitimate

boundaries of discourse not only effectively denied all appeal to

emotion or consideration of morality; it questioned the legitimate use

of language to persuade.28


Thus recognizing the limitations strict sensationalism imposed

upon language, Hume nevertheless laid the foundation for a renewed

interest in affective discourse. This foundation was built upon the

concept of "sympathy" which, denoting for the eighteenth century a

"feeling with" rather than a "feeling for," provided an avenue for
communication largely unexplored by Locke,9 The principle of sympathy,

as explained by Hume, touched almost every aspect of rhetorical theory,

not only supplying the philosophical support for the reintroduction

of moral considerations to discourse, but also encouraging the

"expressiveness" of the new rhetoric as well as the emerging redefi-

nition of the experience of reading central to Wordsworth's poetics.

Growing out of uniformitarian psychology, this principle resulted in

what may be termed a "rhetoric of sympathy" shared not only by the new

rhetoricians, but Wordsworth as well.

Two elements of Hume's description of belief formed the basis for

the rhetoric of sympathy. The first of these was his emphasis upon

the importance of "vivacity," and not simply sensation, in the forma-

tion of belief. As he explains in An Enquiry Concerning Human Under-

standing, "I say, then, that belief is nothing but a more vivid, lively,

forcible, firm, steady conception of an object, than what the imagina-

tion alone is ever able to attain" (Enquiry, V. ii. 40). Vivacity, of

course, emphasizes the strength of conceptions, and not their origin

alone; by rooting belief in the way an idea "feels," Hume opened the

way for other avenues than sensation alone to create vivid

impressions.3 The second of these elements was Hume's emphasis upon

the importance of habitual associations, the regularity as well as



vivacity of impressions in the creation of belief. The "sentiment of

belief," he concludes in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,

is nothing but a conception more intense and
steady [emphasis mine] than what attends the
mere fictions of the imagination, and that this
manner of conception arises from a customary
conjunction of the object with something
present to the memory or senses ."
(Enquiry, V. ii. 40).

The uniformity of psychological laws that formed the basis for

the regularity of impressions opened the avenue through which vivid

ideas could be communicated without the sensations arising out of

direct experience. As Hume explains in A Treatise of Human Nature,

"The minds of all men are similar in their feelings and operations; nor

can anyone be actuated by any affection, of which all others are not,

in some degree, susceptible" (Treatise, II. iii. 1). This instinctive

tendency to feel with others is, Hume explains, not a mysterious

function; instead it is rooted in the laws of causation, resemblance,

and contiguity he perceived governing the operations of the mind:

When I see the effects of passion in the voice
and gesture of any person, my mind immediately
passes from these effects to their causes, and
forms such a lively idea of the passion, as is
presently converted into the passion itself.
In like manner, when I perceive the causes of
any emotion, my mind is convey'd to the effects,
and is actuated with a like emotion.
(Treatise, II. iii. 1)

Sympathy, he concludes, communicates passion through inference: "No

passion of another discovers itself immediately to the mind. We are

only sensible of its causes or effects. From these we infer the

passion: And consequently these give rise to our sympathy (Treatise,

II. iii. 1).

As sympathy functions through the laws of association, Hume

explains, less distinct ideas are converted into more vivid impressions,

and so not only move the listener, but also create belief:

When any affection is infus'd by sympathy, it
is at first known only by its effects, and by
those external signs in the countenance and
conversation, which convey an idea of it. This
idea is presently converted into an impression,
and acquires such a degree of force and vivacity,
as to become the very passion itself, and produce
an equal emotion, as any original affection.
(Treatise, II. i. 11)

Thus, through the operation of sympathy, shared patterns of associa-

tion, as well as shared knowledge, provide a legitimate and indeed

inevitable avenue of communication. Just as belief is created through

repeated experience rather than through reason, so it is communicated

through sympathetic identification rather than through rational


In his essay "Of Eloquence," Hume most explicitly explored the

rhetorical implications of his doctrine of belief and the communica-

tive power of sympathy. Arguing in this essay for a return of

emotional appeals to English oratory, Hume observes, "Now, banish the

pathetic from public discourses, and you reduce the speakers merely to

modern eloquence; that is, to good sense, delivered in proper

expression."31 As he refutes the reasons commonly given that modern

times are unsuited to the passionate outbursts characterizing ancient

oratory, Hume appeals to the doctrine of sympathy to defend the rhetor

against Locke's charge of deceptiveness:

The orator, by force of his own genius and
eloquence, first inflamed himself with anger,
indignation, pity, sorrow; and then communicated
these impetuous movements to his audience.
("Of Eloquence," p. 169)

Instead of deceiving his audience, the rhetor first inflamed himself

with passion which, through sympathy, he communicated to his audience.

Thus, it is through sympathy that the orator is able "To inflame the

audience, so as to make them accompany the speaker in such violent

passions, and such elevated conceptions" ("Of Eloquence," p. 166).

Secondly, the principle of sympathy also formed the basis for

the injection of moral considerations into discourse. It is, for

example, by the operation of sympathy that actions and characters

outside the individual are judged:

Where would be the foundation of morals, if
particular characters had no certain or
determinate power to produce particular
sentiments, and if these sentiments had no
consistent operations on actions? And with
what pretense could we employ our criticism
upon any poet or polite author, if we could
not pronounce the conduct and sentiments
of his actors either natural or unnatural to
such characters, and in such circumstances?
(Enquiry, VIII. i. 70)

According to Hume, moral judgments as well as actions are rooted in

the sensation of pleasure or pain; through sympathy, the responses

of another are internalized and from this perspective, their propriety

is judged by the degree of pleasure or pain they arouse from this

internalized context. Therefore, Hume concludes that "Thus it appears,

that sympathy is a very powerful principle in human nature, that


it has a great influence on our taste of beauty, and that it produces

our sentiment of morals in all the artificial virtues" (Treatise, II.

iii. 1).

David Hartley and Lord Kames even more directly applied the

doctrines of associationism to the moral effects of literature.

Hartley, for example, considered the power of discourse to encourage

moral actions through the operations of sympathy. Assuming, like Hume,

the importance of repeated or habitual associations in the creation of

belief, he argues that the passions, either good or evil, grow stronger

as they are exercised more often. As a result, he warns that such

evil passions as hatred, anger, and malice are best corrected by allow-

ing them to atrophy: "it is extremely dangerous to encourage such a

disposition of mind by satire, invective, dispute, however unworthy the

opponent may be, as the practices generally end in rank malevolence."32

Instead, as discourse approaches experience, it should encourage moral


Among the new rhetoricians, Lord Kames was the first to describe

this moral power of discourse. As he explains in the Elements of

Criticism, an author's chief avenue for moral persuasion lies in the

communication of what he calls the "sympathetic emotion of virtue":

it is raised in a spectator by virtuous
actions of every kind, and by no other sort.
When we contemplate a virtuous action, which
never fails to delight us, and to prompt our
love for the author, the mind is warmed, and
put into a tone similar to that which inspired
the virtuous action; and the propensity we
have to such action is much enlivened as to
become for a time an actual emotion.33

According to Kames, not only does this operation of sympathy lead the

reader to experience virtuous emotions; these emotions, if adequately

exercised, create habits of virtue by which the reader is morally


This singular emotion never exists without
producing some effect; because virtuous emotions
of this sort, are in some degree an exercise of
virtue; they are a mental exercise at least if they
show not externally. And every exercise of virtues
internal and external leads to habit; for a
disposition or propensity of the mind, like a
limb of the body, becomes stronger by exercise.
Proper means, at the same time, being ever at
hand to raise this sympathetic emotion, its
frequent reiteration may, in a good measure,
supply the want of a more complete exercise.
(Elements of Criticism, I, 57)

As a result, Kames closes this discussion with a confident affirmation

of literature's ability to morally transform its readers:

Thus, by proper discipline, every person may
acquire a settled habit of virtue: intercourse
with men of worth, histories of generous and
disinterested actions, and frequent meditation
upon them, keep the sympathetic emotion in
constant exercise, which by degrees introduceth
a habit, and confirms the authority of virtue:
with respect to education in particular, what a
spacious and commodious avenue to the heart of
a young person is here opened.
(Elements of Criticism, I, 57-58)

Wordsworth's redemptive rhetoric is clearly built upon this Humean

foundation of passion, habitual association, and sympathetic

communication as it was morally applied by Hartley and Kames.

Coleridge hinted at that connection when in a letter to his brother in

1798 he quoted from Wordsworth's "The Ruined Cottage" to support

his own description of poetic purpose, which he stated in nakedly

Hartlian terms:

I devote myself to such works as encroach
not on the anti-social passions. I
love fields and woods and mountains with
almost a visionary fondness. And because I
have found benevolence and quietness growing
within me as that fondness has increased,
therefore I should wish to be a means of
implanting it in others and to destroy the
bad passions not by combating them but by
keeping them in inaction.34

Wordsworth himself clarified the philosophical foundations of his

rhetoric in two texts. The first of these is an unpublished prose

fragment W. J. B. Owen has entitled the "Essay on Morals,"in which he

gives an early exposition of the philosophical and psychological

premises undergirding his morally aspirative verse. The second is the

"Preface" of 1815, in which, while giving his most complete explanation

of his theory of the "literature of power," he also reveals its

fundamentally Humean foundation,

Composed in 1798, the year Wordsworth announced his redemptive

purpose, the "Essay on Morals" lays the psychological basis for his

rhetoric. Opening with the assertion that "I think publications in

which we formally & systematically lay down rules for the actions of

Men cannot be too long delayed" (Prose Works, I, 103), Wordsworth not

only rejects the Godwinian rationalism he had briefly embraced

following his despair over the French revolution; he also adopts an

associationistic description of belief. Like Hume, he explains here

that habit, and not reason, is the proper source and foundation of

moral decision and action:

I shall scarcely express myself too strongly
when I say that I consider such books as
Mr. Godwyn's, Mr. Paley's, & those of the
whole tribe of authors of that class as
impotent [?in or ?to] all their intended
good purposes; to which I wish I could add
that they were equally impotent to all bad
one[s]. This sentence, I am afraid, will be
unintelligible. You will at least have a
glimpse of my meaning when I observe that
our attention ought principally to be fixed
upon that part of our conduct & actions which
is the result of our habits.
(Prose Works, I, 103)

As a result, just as Hume observed that "reason is and ought only to

be the slave of the passions," so Wordsworth asserts here that propo-

sitions have no persuasive or dissuasive power in themselves:

Can it be imagined by any man who has
examined his own heart that an old habit will
be forgone, or a new one formed, by a series
of propositions, which presenting no image
to the [?mind] can convey no feeling which has
any connection with the supposed archetype or
fountain of the proposition existing in human
(Prose Works, I, 103)

Propositions cannot move the mind, he explains, because they provide

the mind with no experience; until the mind receives "images," there

is no "feeling" and, consequently, no habits are formed. As a result,

Wordsworth concludes by echoing Hume's devaluation of the reason and

Hartley's contention that moral change is best affected not by argu-

ment, but by the strengthening through sympathetic identification of

the habits comprising benevolent passions: "These moralists attempt to

strip the mind of all its clothing when their object ought to be to

furnish it with new. All this is the consequence of an undue value

set upon that faculty which we call reason" (Prose Works, I, 103).


The full extent of Wordsworth's affinities with the rhetorical

foundation established by Hume becomes apparent when he outlines his

theory of the "literature of power" in the "Essay, Supplementary to

the Preface" of 1815. Wordsworth, like Hume in "Of Eloquence," frames

his argument in the familiar eighteenth-century vocabulary of "taste"

and "genius"; as his description of affective poetry resembles Hume's

"ancient eloquence" in purpose, nature, and audience, it betrays the

affinities, if not the origins, of the "literature of power" in Hume's

plea for the introduction of a more emotionally affective discourse

into English public life.

First, both Hume and Wordsworth describe their affective litera-

ture within a general context of "taste." In "Of Eloquence," Hume

concedes that contemporary taste does not favor the passionate dis-

course of Cicero and Demosthenes he admired, but this taste, he

insisted, could be changed: "The orators formed the taste of the

ATHENIAN people, not the people of the orators" ("Of Eloquence,"

p. 169, n. 4). As a result, he suggests that "It is in vain therefore

for modern orators to plead the taste of their hearers as an apology

for their lame performances" ("Of Eloquence," p. 170, n. 4, cont'd).

As he argues for a return to a more intrinsically emotional rhetoric,

he defines the need as a transformation and amelioration of taste; in

response to modern orators who rejected the "heights of ancient

eloquence" as "unsuitable to the spirit of modern assemblies," he

concludes that "A few successful attempts of this nature might rouse

the genius of the nation, excite the emulation of the youth, and

accustom our ears to a more sublime and more pathetic elocution, than


what we have been hitherto entertained with" ("Of Eloquence," p. 170).

Furthermore, he explains, these changes in taste are to be accomplished

by productions of genius. Though a nation's taste, through inadequate

experience with products of genius, may be false, he observes that

It is seldom or never found, when a false taste
in poetry or eloquence prevails among any people,
that it has been preferred to a true, upon
comparison and reflection. Whenever the
true genius arises, he draws to him the atten-
tion of every one, and immediately appears
superior to his rival.
("Of Eloquence," p. 172)

Similarly, Wordsworth describes the purpose of the literature of

power in terms of the creation of taste. "Every author," he observes,

"as far as he is great and at the same time original, has had the task

of creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed" (Prose Works, III,

80). In his discussion of taste, of course, Wordsworth laments the

sinking in spirit in a nation evident as a term, denoting a "passive

sense of the human body," is used to signify "things which are in their

essence not passive, -- to intellectual acts and operations" (Prose

Works, III, 81). The creation of taste, then, for Wordsworth as for

Hume, occurs as the genius of the author inspires his audience to a

transforming activity.

Second, Hume's "ancient eloquence" and Wordsworth's "literature

of power" agree in their general components as well as in the means by

which they create taste. According to Hume, the power of ancient

oratory resided in its passionate intensity and elevated sentiments:

ancient eloquence, that is, the sublime and
passionate, is of a much juster taste than
the modern, or the argumentative and
rational; and, if properly executed, will
always have more command and authority over
("Of Eloquence," p. 173)

Not only does the sublime and pathetic move the hearts of its hearers;

it is through these that the ancient orators "commanded the resolution"

of their audiences ("Of Eloquence," p. 173). This argument, of course,

rests upon the foundation of Hume's description of belief; consequently,

he describes the operation of passionate eloquence upon its hearers in

terms of the doctrine of sympathy. In ancient rhetoric, Hume explains,

the orator's genius enabled him "to inflame the audience, so as to

make them accompany the speaker in such violent passions, and such

elevated conceptions" C"Of Eloquence," p. 166). Thus the orator moves

his audience by touching the "principles," or universal laws by which

their passions operate:

The principles of every passion, and of every
sentiment, is in every man; and when touched
properly, they rise to life, and warm the
heart, and convey that satisfaction, by which
a work of genius is distinguished from the
adulterate beauties of a capricious wit and
("Of Eloquence," p. 172)

Wordsworth likewise describes his literature of power in terms of

the sublime and pathetic, and in doing so he also relies upon a rhetoric

of sympathy. Wordsworth first mentions the components of the litera-

ture of power when he decries the inadequacy of the word "taste" to

signify the response this literature evokes from its readers:

But the profound and exquisite in feeling,
the lofty and universal in thought and
imagination; or in ordinary language, the
pathetic and the sublime; -- are neither
of them, accurately speaking, objects of
a faculty which could ever without a
sinking in the spirit of nations have
been designated by the metaphor -- Taste.
(Prose Works, III, 81)

Like Hume's eloquence, this literature of power moves its readers

through sympathy:

And why? Because without the exertion of
a co-operating power in the mind of the
reader, there can be no adequate sympathy
with either of these emotions: without
this auxiliary impulse, elevated or
profound passion cannot exist.
(Prose Works, III, 81)

Hume had earlier explained that the creation of taste involves the

exertion of both the speaker and his hearers; as he observes, "The

movements are mutually communicated between the orator and his audience"

("Of Eloquence," p. 173). Similarly, Wordsworth emphasizes here that

the creation of taste through the literature of power involves sympa-

thetic exertion on the reader's part; the reader, he explains, "is

invigorated and inspirited by his leader, in order that he may exert

himself; for he cannot proceed in quiescence, he cannot be carried like

a dead weight" (Prose Works, III, 82). Finally, both Wordsworth and

Hume agree that the taste created by the reader's sympathetic exertion

ends in intellectual conviction; Hume, for example, maintains that

through sympathetic participation in an orator's sublime and passionate

exertion, the audience's "resolution" was "commanded" ("Of Eloquence,"

p. 173), while Wordsworth concludes, "Therefore, to create taste is to


call forth and bestow power, of which knowledge is the effect .. ."

(Prose Works, III, 82).

Perhaps even more importantly, Wordsworth's literature of power,

like Hume's ancient eloquence, is a primarily popular art to be judged

by common rather than expert readers. As a result of his confidence

in the uniformity of the laws governing human nature, Hume believed

though a people may possess a false taste, they will, when confronted

with a work of genius, recognize and respond to it. Eloquence, he


being merely calculated for the public, and
for men of the world, cannot, with any
pretense of reason, appeal from the people
to more refined judges; but must submit to
the public verdict, without reserve or
limitation. Whoever, upon comparison, is
deemed by a common audience the greatest
orator, ought most certainly to be
pronounced such, by men of science and
("Of Eloquence," p. 172)

Taste, for Hume, is rooted in experience, and as an affective art,

eloquence must be judged by its effect upon the heart rather than

according to abstract rules or principles. Undistracted by erudition,

a common audience can best recognize a production of genius as it

unselfconsciously responds to the orator's language.

While Wordsworth's argument proceeds along similar lines, it is,

largely in response to his lack of either wide-spread popular recog-

nition or critical acceptance in 1815, more cautious. Unlike Hume, who

expresses faith that a work of genius will be universally and generally

recognized upon its appearance, Wordsworth asserts that the works most


usually gaining immediate reception do so as a result of an audacity or

extravagance appealing to the public's corrupted taste. Therefore, he

concludes, "Away, then, with the senseless iteration of the word

popular, applied to new works in poetry, as if there were no test of

excellence in this first of the fine arts but that all men should run

after its production, as if urged by an appetite, or constrained by a

spell!" CProse Works, III, 83). Despite this more pessimistic appraisal

of his audience, though, Wordsworth's "test of eloquence," like Hume's,

is ultimately the experience of common readers. Though many inferior

works may win the "Local acclamation of a transitory outcry" from what

he calls the "Public," works of genius, he insists, will survive through

the "People." Requesting, in the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads, "that in

judging these Poems he [the reader] would decide by his own feelings

genuinely, and not by reflection upon what will probably be the judg-

ment of others" (Prose Works, I, 154), Wordsworth demonstrated a faith

that his works, if read without the bias of presuppositions about the

proper subject matter or language of poetry, were capable of moving

untrained readers. As he concludes, "let the Reader then abide,

independently, by his own feelings, and, if he finds himself affected,

let him not suffer such conjectures to interfere with his pleasure"

(Prose Works, I, 154).

Wordsworth, of course, was not necessarily an eager student of

either the new rhetoricians or Hume, who largely supplied the psycho-

logical and rhetorical foundation for their efforts. His poetic

theory, though, was clearly rooted in the eighteenth century, and by

dwelling upon the correspondences between it and this rhetorical


tradition, I have hoped to demonstrate the extent to which Wordsworth's

theory -- in its scope and orientation -- was fundamentally and

systematically rhetorical by eighteenth-century standards.

Wordsworth and the Problem of Referentiality:
Two Responses

As Wordsworth shared a common psychological foundation with the

eighteenth century, he defined rhetorical problems, and searched for

solutions to them, within the general perimeters established by that

century. The most fundamental of these problems were associated with

the limitations imposed upon communication by language's referentiality.

In its valuation of sense experience, empiricism not only shifted

authority from words to things; it became suspicious of the words that

stand between sensation and intellection. John Locke, for example,

voiced these concerns in An Essay on Human Understanding:

If often happens that men, even when they
would apply themselves to an attentive
consideration, do set their thoughts more
on words than things. Nay, because words
are many of them learned before the ideas
for which they stand; therefore some, not
only children, but men, speak several words
no otherwise than parrots do, only because
they have learned them, and have been
accustomed to those sounds.36

As a result of this sensitivity, closing the referential gap between

words and things took on paramount importance.

Wordsworth, of course, shared this concern. As early as the 1798

"Essay on Morals," he attacked the rationalistic philosophers' use of


language as a "juggler's trick" incapable of furnishing the mind with

new ideas because these men engaged "not in fitting words to things

(which would be a noble employment) but) in fitting things to words"

(Prose Works, I, 103). Such abuses, Wordsworth recognized, are not

restricted to the abstract propositions of philosophical assertion. In

the 1815 "Essay, Supplementary to the Preface," for example, he faults

MacPherson's poetry for a similar inadequacy; the language of this

poetic impostor, he explains, "insulated, dislocated, and deadened"

whatever he described because in his verse "words are substituted for

things" (Prose Works, III, 77).

Wordsworth's sensitivity to this problem became even more acute

as he sought to use language as a medium for the communication of

passion. The difficulty of adequately signifying "things" is aggra-

vated when words are used to convey feeling as well as sensation; as

Wordsworth observes in his note to "The Thorn" (1800), "every man must

know that an attempt is rarely made to communicate impassioned feelings

without something of an accompanying consciousness of the inadequate-

ness of our own powers, or the deficiencies of language" (Poetical

Works, II, 513). As a result, this sense of language's inadequacy

finally led Wordsworth to the profound ambivalence toward language

itself he expressed in the second of his "Essays on Epitaphs":

Language, if it do not uphold, and feed, and
leave it quiet, like the power of gravitation
or the air we breathe, is a counter-spirit,
unremittingly and noiselessly at work to de-
range, to subvert, to lay waste, to vitiate,
and to dissolve.
(Prose Works, II, 85)

As Wordsworth worked to counter the arbitrariness of language

resulting from its referentiality, the empirical and associationistic

foundation of the new rhetoric offered two options. First, in a

fundamentally Lockean maneuver he could elide all evaluation from his

language by subordinating words to "things"; such a rhetoric, of

course, emphasizes the importance of sensation as it seeks to approxi-

mate, through language, experience. This sort of language indeed moves

its readers' passions, but only through vivid and particular descrip-

tion as the author invests language with the vivacity of sensory

impressions. In the Elements of Criticism, Lord Kames described this

language's effect as the creation of an "ideal presence":

The power of language to raise emotions,
depends entirely on the raising such lively
and distinct images as are here described:
the reader's passions are never sensibly
moved, till he be thrown into a kind of
reverie; in which state, losing the
consciousness of self, and of reading, his
present occupation, he conceives every
incident as passing in his presence,
precisely as if he were an eyewitness.
(Elements of Criticism, I, 85)

In its emphasis upon vivacity, this language was primarily mimetic.

Tending to elide the author's voice to focus instead upon the scene, or

visual stimuli, it ultimately functioned as drama, moving its readers'

emotions through sensation rather than sympathetic identification.

The second response also sought to close the referential gap

between words and things; instead of effacing the author--and even

itself--before "things," this language emphasizes the ethos of the

speaker. Just as in Hume's "ancient eloquence" and Wordsworth's


"literature of power" the genius of the author moves his audience, so

here the power of genius rather than the effacement of the author

accomplishes this union. Schiller, for example, directly attributed to

genius the power to bridge this referential gap:

In the case of grammar and logic, the sign
and the thing signified are always heterogeneous
and strangers to each other: with genius, on
the contrary, the expression gushes forth
spontaneously from the idea, the language and
the thought are one and the same, so that even
though the expression thus gives it a body,
the spirit appears as if disclosed in a nude

At the close of his discussion of the literature of power in the

"Essay, Supplementary to the Preface," Wordsworth likewise asserts the

power of genius to overcome language's resistiveness:

Remember, also, that the medium through
which, in poetry, the heart is to be affected,
is language; a thing subject to endless
fluctuations and arbitrary associations. The
genius of the poet melts these down for his
purpose; but they retain their shape and
quality to him who is not capable of exerting
within his own mind, a corresponding energy.
(Prose Works, III, 82)

Thus in this second language the author takes on paramount importance,

functioning, as Wordsworth suggests in the "Essay, Supplementary to the

Preface," as a "leader." As passion and "power" are restored to

discourse, ethos takes on an overriding significance, because words

and things are united in intellectual exertion rather than imitation.

This second language, of course, operated upon its readers through

a rhetoric of sympathy. In this operation, discourse became


increasingly internalized; instead of dramatic representation, this

language functioned as a mode of being. Operating from a rigidly

Hartlian associationism, Joseph Priestley, for example, recognized

this function, observing that "as the mind conforms itself to the ideas

which engage its attention, and it hath no other method of judging of

itself but from its situation, the perception of a new train of ideas

is like entering into a new mode of existence" (Course of Lectures,

p. 147). Hartley and Kames both, as we have seen, noted the moral

power of language which functions as vicarious experience, and as

Wordsworth describes his moral purpose to the youthful John Wilson, he

does so in similar terms:

a great Poet ought to a certain degree
rectify men's feelings, to give them new
compositions of feelings [emphasis mine], to
render their feelings more sane, pure, and
permanent, in short, more consonant to
nature, that is to external nature, and
the great moving spirit of things.38

In their attempts to overcome language's referential gap and so

transform discourse into either internal or external experience, the

new rhetoricians came to prize two criteria in language. First, in

response to associationism, they came to value "natural order." Kames,

for example, noted that "Every work of art that is conformable to the

natural course of our ideas, is so far agreeable; and every work of

art that reverses that course, is so far disagreeable" (Elements of

Criticism, I, 25). Priestley, though perhaps best summarized their

general impulse: "a writer can never be blamed if he dispose the

materials of his composition by an attention to the strongest and most

usual associations of ideas in the human mind" (Course of Lectures,

p. 35, emphasis Priestley's). Secondly, in response to the sensation-

alism of Locke and Hume, they valued "vivacity." While of the new

rhetoricians Campbell emphasized more than any other the importance of

using detailed description, present tense, and other techniques to

invest ideas of the memory and imagination with the vivacity they

otherwise lack, Priestley again most concisely states the undergirding

premises of this impulse when he notes that the passions "are engaged,

and we feel ourselves interested, in proportion to the vividness of

our ideas of those objects and circumstances which contribute to excite
them" (Course of Lectures, p. 79, emphasis Priestley's).3 Wordsworth

demonstrated a similar interest in vivacity and natural order as he

formulated the characteristic idiom of his redemptive rhetoric in the

"Preface" to Lyrical Ballads; in the following chapter, I want to

explore the role of these two criteria as Wordsworth's poetic language

became simultaneously more expressive and internalized, yet also more



In Eighteenth-Century British Logic and Rhetoric (Princeton:
Princeton Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 536-691, W. S. Howell includes Adam
Smith, George Campbell, David Hume, John Lawson, Joseph Priestley,
Hugh Blair, and John Witherspoon in his discussion of the "new
rhetoric"; in "Empiricism, Description, and the New Rhetoric," Philos-
ophy and Rhetoric 5 (Winter, 1972), 24-44, Gerard A. Hauser includes
Archibald Alison and James Beattie as well. I have chosen to discuss
these five for several reasons. First, although they philosophically
ranged from Priestley's strict associationism to the strong influence
of Scottish Common Sense philosophy, they illustrate the more or less
general acceptance of certain rhetorical and critical concepts.
Secondly, these texts placed these concepts in their clearest rhetori-
cal perspective. Finally, they were all sources either generally
influential,or else ones Wordsworth would have possibly, if not
probably, known.
See W. J. B. Owen, Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads,
Anglistica IX (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1957), pp. 106-107:
"He[Wordsworth]was also aware of the primitivistic theories of
poetry which are associated with a well-defined school of eighteenth-
century Scottish philosophy; and he was therefore aware of a version of
an expressive poetic which is intimately connected with the theorizings
of this school. He sneered in 1815 at Adam Smith as 'the worst critic
that Scotland has produced," but was not averse to making
use of Smith's doctrine of sympathy, perhaps unaware of its source.
He shares with a thinker as antipathetic to himself as Voltaire the
doctrine which Lovejoy calls 'Uniformitarianism' and its corollaries.
In addition to these fundamental doctrines, the Preface draws on
eighteenth-century commonplaces for various details: the figurative
nature of passionate speech; the close relation between the aesthetic
and the moral judgment; the principle of similitude in dissimilitude."

3See T. W. Thompson, Wordsworth's Hawkshead, ed. Robert Woof
(London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), p. 353.

4See Thompson, p. 349 (Blair, p. 364 (Kames), p. 353 (Priestley),
p. 361 (Smith) and p. 362 (Campbell).

5For example, see George W. Meyer Wordsworth's Formative Years,
Univ. of Michigan Studies in Language and Literature, Vol. 20 (Ann
Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1943), pp. 93-94, and F. M. Todd,
Politics and the Poet (London: Methuen and Co., 1957), p. 55.

6Mary Jacobus, Tradition and Experiment in Wordsworth's Lyrical
Ballads (1798) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), p. 249.

Arthur Beatty, William Wordsworth: His Doctrine and Art in Their
Historical Relations, Univ. of Wisconsin Studies in Language and
Literature, No. 17 (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1922), pp. 33-

E. C. Knowlton, "Wordsworth and Hugh Blair," Philological
Quarterly 6 (July, 1927), 277-281; Samuel H. Monk, The Sublime: A
Study of Critical Theories in XVIII-Century England (New York: Modern
Language Association of America, 1935), pp. 120-129; Monk also mentions
the influence of Kames (pp. 113-117) and Priestley (pp. 117-119).
Scott Elledge, "The Background and Development in English
Criticism of the Theories of Generality and Particularity," PMLA 62
(March, 1947), 176-182.

P. W. K. Stone, The Art of Poetry, 1750-1820 (London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1967), pp. 96-102,103.

Vincent M. Bevilacqua, "Philosophical Influences in the Develop-
ment of English Rhetorical Theory: 1748-1783," Proceedings of the Leeds
Philosophical and Literary Society, Literary and Historical Section XII
(April, 1968), 191.

1For a good discussion of the classical distinctions between
poetry and rhetoric, see Wilbur Samuel Howell, "Introduction" to
Poetics, Rhetoric, and Logic: Studies in the Basic Disciplines of
Criticism (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1975), p. 22. In "John Locke
and the New Rhetoric," Quarterly Journal of Speech, 53 (December, 1967),
330, Howell notes that the eighteenth century was "not regulated by an
adequate distinction between rhetorical and poetical theory." For an
historical discussion of the sharing of poetry and rhetoric in a common
pool of figurative expressions, see Rosemond Tuve, Elizabethan and
Metaphysical Imagery (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1947), pp. 180-
191, passim, and 310-311.

13Thomas 0. Sloan explores the origins of this conflation in
"The Crossing of Rhetoric and Poetry in the English Renaissance," in
The Rhetoric of Renaissance Poetry: From Wyatt to Milton, ed. T. O.
Sloan and Raymand B. Waddington (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press,
1974), pp. 212-242, passim.
1For the origin of the concept of "belles lettres," see W. S.
Howell, Eighteenth-Century British Logic and Rhetoric, pp. 503-525;
for the introduction of this concept as well as the term into English
criticism, see pp. 525-535.

1Adam Smith, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, ed. John
M. Lothian (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1963), p. 107. Joseph
Priestley, A Course of Lectures on Oratory and Criticism, ed. Vincent
M. Bevilacqua and Richard Murphy (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ.
Press, 1965), pp. 267-270; hereafter cited parenthetically as Course
of Lectures.

1George Campbell, The Philosophy of Rhetoric, ed. Lloyd F. Bitzer
(Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1963), pp, xlix, 1; here-
after cited parenthetically as The Philosophy of Rhetoric. W. S. Howell
offers a good discussion of Campbell's treatment in Eighteenth-Century
British Logic and Rhetoric, pp. 592-593.

17Cited by Helen W. Randall in The Critical Theory of Lord Kames,
Smith College Studies in Modern Languages, 22 (Northampton, Mass.:
Depts. of Modern Languages of Smith College, 1944), p. 71.
18Priestley, pp. 1-11, passim; Campbell, p. xlii.
1The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W. J. B. Owen and
Jane Worthington Smyser, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), I,
120. Future references will be made parenthetically to Prose Works.
20wen, The Preface to Lyrical Ballads, p. 107.
21Owen, The Preface to Lyrical Ballads, p. 106.

22John Patton, "Experience and Imagination: Approaches to Rhetoric
by John Locke and David Hume," Southern Speech Communication Journal
41 (Fall, 1975), 26-28.
23Patton, p. 17.

2An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, III. x. 34, in The
Works of John Locke, new, corrected ed., 10 vol. (London: Thomas Tegg,
1823); all citations from the Essay will come from this edition.

25An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, III. x. 23.

26Patton, p. 21.

27An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, V. ii. 40. All
quotations will come from Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding
and Concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902); subsequent references will be made
parenthetically to Enquiry.
28Patton, pp. 25-26.

29See Hume's discussions in A Treatise on Human Nature, ed. T. H.
Green and T. H. Grose, (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1874), Vol.
II, Part I, Sect. XI and Vol. II, Part II, Sect. I. Hereafter cited
parenthetically as Treatise.

30See Patton, p. 24.

31David Hume, "Of Eloquence," in Essays Moral, Political, and
Literary, ed. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose (London: Longmans, Green,
and Co., 1875), I, 169. Subsequent references will be made parenthe-
tically to "Of Eloquence."

32David Hartley, Observations on Man (6th ed., 1834), pp. 501-502,
cited by Meyer in Wordsworth's Formative Years, p. 242.

33Henry Home, Lord Kames, Elements of Criticism, 3rd ed.
(Edinburgh: A. Kincaid and J. Bell; London: A. Millar, 1765), I, 56;
hereafter cited parenthetically as Elements of Criticism.

34Cited in The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, ed. Ernest
De Selincourt and Helen Darbishire, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1940-1949), V, 430.

3See Treatise, II. iii. 3.

3An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, III. ii. 7.

37Fredrich Schiller, Aesthetical and Philosophical Essays, Vol. I
of The Works of Fredrich Schiller, ed. Nathan Haskell Dole (Boston:
Wyman-Fogg Co., 1902), pp. 291-292.

38To John Wilson, June 1802, in The Early Letters of William and
Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. Ernest De Selincourt (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1935), pp. 295-296.

39See Campbell, pp. 286-293, passim.


When the Lyrical Ballads first appeared in 1798, they were

accompanied by a brief "advertisement" announcing their experimental

nature. The full-length "Preface" appeared in the 1800 edition, and

this version, in turn, was significantly modified for the edition of

1802. Although the various versions of the "Preface" do not exactly

coincide with his experiments in poetic language, they do accurately

reflect their progress from a mimetic to a fundamentally expressive

poetic. However, rather than making his poetry less rhetorical, as

M. H. Abrams has suggested, I believe this increasing expressiveness

marks Wordsworth's adoption of a decisively rhetorical poetic and the

association of his redemptive verse with the rhetoric of sympathy

advocated by Hume and fostered by the new rhetoricians.

Imitation and the "Preface" of 1800

If we may trust Coleridge's account in the Biographia Literaria,

the theory he and Wordsworth initially espoused was primarily mimetic,

and their poetical aim the creation of a state much like Kames's "ideal

presence." As he explains here, the two poets believed the sympathies

of their readers could best be moved by a "faithful adherence" to


During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and
I were neighbors, our conversations turned
frequently upon two cardinal points of poetry,
the power of exciting the sympathy of the
reader by a faithful adherence to the truth
of nature [emphasis mine] and the power of
giving the interest of novelty by the
modifying colours of the imagination.1

In the "Advertisement" to the first edition of Lyrical Ballads,

Wordsworth helped define this "nature" when he called his poems

"experiments 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"; "nature," for Words-
worth, clearly includes human nature as well as physical nature. It

was not, however, until the "Preface" of 1800 that Wordsworth explained

how the description of rustic life and the imitation of rustic speech

provided a suitable foundation for his redemptive language:

The principal object then which I proposed
to myself in these Poems was to make the incidents
of common life interesting by tracing in them
truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws
of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the
manner in which we associate ideas in a state of
excitement. Low and rustic life was generally
chosen because in that situation the essential
passions of the heart find a better soil in
which they can attain their maturity, are less
under restraint, and speak a plainer and more
emphatic language; because in that situation
our elementary feelings exist in a state of
greater simplicity and consequently may be more
accurately contemplated and more forcibly
communicated; because the manners of rural life
germinate from those elementary feelings; and
from the necessary character of rural occupations
are more easily comprehended; and are more durable;
and lastly, because in that situation the passions
of men are incorporated with the beautiful and
permanent forms of nature. The language too of

these men is adopted (purified indeed from what
appear to be its real defects, from all lasting
and rational causes of dislike or disgust)
because such men hourly communicate with the
best objects from which the best part of
language is originally derived; and because
being less under the action of social
vanity they convey their feelings and notions
in simple and unelaborated expressions.
Accordingly such a language arising out of
repeated experience and regular feelings is a
more permanent and a far more philosophical
language than that which is frequently
substituted for it by Poets, who think that
they are conferring honour upon themselves
from the sympathies of men, and indulge in
arbitrary and capricious habits of expression
in order to furnish food for fickle tastes and
fickle appetites of their own creation.
(Prose Works, I, 123-124)

This lengthy passage contains the heart of the mimetic theory

governing Wordsworth's poetic experiments in this volume. As he

explains here, he chose his subject partially for its intrinsic value;

he wanted to communicate moral sentiments to his readers, and in "low

and rustic life" he believed the "essential passions of the heart"

found a "better soil" in which to mature. However, as Don H.

Bialostosky has, I believe, accurately suggested, Wordsworth is pri-

marily concerned with his subject's power to communicate.

Most fundamentally, Wordsworth's mimetic theory here is founded

upon his belief that rustic language is both more natural and more vivid

than either polite or poetical language and therefore more communica-

tive. His purpose, as he explains later in the "Preface," is "to

illustrate the manner in which our feelings and ideas are associated in

a state of excitement" and "to follow the fluxes and refluxes of the

mind when agitated by the great and simple affections of our nature"


(Prose Works, I, 126). As a result of his primitivistic assumptions,

Wordsworth believed these associations were the most natural and

uncomplicated in rustic speech; in rustic life, he explains here, the

"elementary feelings" of mankind are unadulterated and immediately

visible, and in their simplicity they "may be more accurately contem-

plated and more forcibly communicated." Secondly, in rustic speech he

hoped to find a more vivid language; rustics, Wordsworth notes here,

"hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of

language is derived." As Don H. Bialostosky has cogently argued.

Wordsworth's concept of the "best part" of language is much closer to

Hartley's definition of "real" language than it is to Coleridge's mis-

understanding of it in the Biographia Literaria as "common" language,

the universally accepted language of a society. According to Hartley,

Bialostosky explains, a "real" language associates words with ideas,

which are, in turn, abstracted directly from sensation and memory; a

"nominal" language, on the other hand, simply relates words to words.

Since a "real" language is directly born out of sensory perception, it

is necessarily vivid, the "best part" of language because it is derived

from objects.4

Such a radically conservative definition of poetic language,

locating value and meaning in objects rather than words, led Words-

worth to what he calls a "naked and simple" style. The poet, to be

sure, may purify the "real" language he discovers among rustics by

omitting "all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust," but

if he tries to supplement or offer substitutions for this language,

he risks indulging in "arbitrary and fickle habits of expression" that

will separate him from his reader's passions.


Of the 1798 experiments in poetic language, "Goody Blake and Harry

Gill" perhaps best illustrates Wordsworth's imitation of rustic subjects

and rustic speech to achieve natural order and vivid diction. Not only

is the narrator's diction and syntax no more elevated than his subjects';

the arrangement or disposition of the poem similarly belongs to a simple

and unsophisticated mind. The narrator unself-consciously begins, as

it were, in medias res, relating first the most striking part of his

tale, while clinging even then to the most striking circumstance:

Oh! what's the matter? what's the matter?
What is't that ails young Harry Gill?
That evermore his teeth they chatter,
Chatter, chatter, chatter still!5

From this point, the tale unfolds through the narrator's "natural" train

of associations rather than a spatial or chronological order, Associa-

tions of cause and effect govern the narrator's presentation. First he

introduces Harry, the object of his attention, then Goody Blake, the

cause of his suffering; finally, he describes the old woman's hardships,

which led to her confrontation with Harry and her curse upon him. This

train of association, though, proves only an interlude as the narrator

closes by returning to the same image of Harry's suffering with which

he opened his tale:

No word to any man he utters,
A-bed or up, to young or old;
But even to himself he mutters,
"Poor Harry Gill is very cold."
A-bed or up, by night or day;
His teeth they chatter, chatter still.
(11. 121-126)

This same criterion of naturalness dominates Wordsworth's style

and diction as well, appearing most obviously in repetitions and

tautologies, the stylistic counterpart to the narrator's tendency to

cling to the most affecting circumstance. In the note to "The Thorn,"

which is similarly related by a rustic narrator, Wordsworth justified

such repetitions on the grounds that they are psychologically authentic

and hence not only natural, but well suited successfully to communi-

cate impassioned feelings:

Words, a poet's more particularly, ought to
be weighted in the balance of feeling, and
not measured by the space they occupy upon
paper. For the Reader cannot be reminded too
often that Poetry is passion; it is the history
or science of feeling. Now every man must
know that an attempt is rarely made to communicate
impassioned feelings without something of an
accompanying consciousness of the inadequateness
of our powers, or the deficiencies of language.
During such efforts there will be a craving in
the mind, and as long as it is unsatisfied the
speaker will cling to the same words, or words
of the same character. There are also various
other reasons why repetition and apparent
tautology are frequently beauties of the
highest kind. Among the chief of these reasons
is the interest which the mind attaches to
words, not only as symbols of the passion, but
as things, active and efficient, which are of
themselves part of the passion. And further,
from a spirit of fondness, exultation, and
gratitude the mind luxuriates in the repetition
of words which appear successfully to communicate
its feelings.
(Poetical Works, II, 513)

The predominance of this natural order is evident in the syntactical

peculiarities Marjorie Barstow Greenbie investigated early in this

century. Perhaps the most frequent of these is the pleonastic

multiplication of pronouns as the rustic mind struggles to cement the


relation of subject and object to the verb. These appear, for example,

in the first stanza:

What isn't that ails young Harry Gill?
that evermore his teeth they chatter,
C11. 2-3)

and again in the ninth

Now Harry he had long suspected
This trespass of old Goody Blake .
11. 65-66)

The narrator's diction is similarly immediate, characterized by both

colloquialisms (calling Goody Blake, for example a "canty dame")

and similes drawn from rustic experience rather than poetic tradition;

for example, he compares young Harry's cheeks to "ruddy clover," and

observes, "still his jaws and teeth they clatter, / Like a loose case-

ment in the wind."

The general reliance upon mimetic theory that led Wordsworth to

seek a vivid and natural language in rustic speech, however, severely

limited his relationship with his readers. Though Wordsworth tries

to engage his readers' sympathies, the poetic distance imposed by his

mimetic language as well as his obvious use of a narrative persona led

his poems to function as "tales" which create an ideal presence rather

than a communion of poet and reader. Thus, despite their avowed

purpose, most of these "lyrical ballads" lack any direct statement by

the poet; in those that do, the statement simply claims for the poem a

value or message it refuses to lay bare. "Goody Blake and Harry Gill,"

for example, concludes with a simple admonition: "Now think, ye farmers


all, I pray / Of Goody Blake and Harry Gill." In the same manner, the

narrator of "Anecdote for Fathers" points to the tale as an exemplum

without directly interpreting or applying it:

0 dearest, dearest, boy! my heart
For better lore would seldom yearn,
Could I but teach the hundredth part
Of what from thee I learn.
(Poetical Works, I, 243)

In "Simon Lee, the Old Huntsman," Wordsworth most strenuously

argues for the power of bare description, enforced with only the

feeblest of action, to function as a valid medium for the communication

of moral sentiments. He begins by interrupting his description of

Simon and Ruth's meagre existence to directly address his readers'


Few month of life he has in store,
As he to you will tell,
For still, the more he works, the more
His poor old ancles swell.
My gentle reader, I perceive
How patiently you've waited
And I'm afraid that you expect
Some tale will be related.
O reader! had you in your mind
Such stores as silent thought can bring,
O gentle reader you would find
A tale in everything.
What more I have to say is short,
I hope you'll kindly take it-
it is no tale; but should you think,
Perhaps a tale you'll make it.
(Poetical Works, IV, 63)

Recognizing that he is reneging upon what he recognized in the

"Preface" as his "formal engagement" to "gratify certain known habits

of association" among his readers, the narrator prepares them with an


apology, then challenges them to make a "tale" of the single incident

of the poem, his casual offer of aid and the old huntsman's embarrass-

ing gratitude.

Even here, however, Wordsworth betrays his doubts about the

rhetorical power of such profound understatement. As the narrator

concludes, he finally supplies the moral to a description that even in

its extreme simplicity proved to be a "tale," or moral exemplum:

-- I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
With coldness still returning.
Alas! the gratitude of men
Has oftener left me mourning.
(Poetical Works, IV, 64)

Similarly, this early effort to move his readers through the creation

of an "ideal presence" that would function as unmediated experience

ultimately led Wordsworth to an uneasy relationship with his subject

as well as his audience. Since vivacity and naturalness were attain-

able only by imitation, either the poet was too distant from his sub-

ject, or else too close. Wordsworth's description of conversion in

Peter Bell, for example, kept him too distant from his subject; as the

rustic peddler became more an object of humor than of sympathy, both

the poet and the reader merely observe his actions rather than identify

with or share his experience. On the other hand, the mimetic founda-

tion of a poem like "Goody Blake and Harry Gill" brought the poet too

close to his subject; in re-creating the repetitions and loose

connections of ideas native to rustic speech, he lost the perspicuity

and coherence also necessary for the communication of vivid ideas.

Modified Mimesis: The Poems of 1800

The inadequacy of this radically mimetic rhetoric quickly became

apparent. In an early review of Lyrical Ballads, for example, Robert

Southey condemned "The Thorn," observing that "The author should have

recollected that he who personates tiresome loquacity, becomes tiresome

himself.6 Coleridge offered a similar criticism in the Biographia


It is indeed very possible to adopt in a
poem the unmeaning repetitions, habitual
phrases, and other blank counters, which
an unfurnished or confused understanding
interposes at short intervals, in order
to keep hold of his subject, which is still
slipping from him, and to give him time
for recollection; or, in mere aid of
vacancy, as in the scanty companies of a
country stage the same player pops back-
wards and forwards in order to prevent
the appearance of empty spaces, in the
processions of Macbeth or Henry VIII.
But what assistance to the poet, or ornament
to the poem these can supply, I am at a
loss to conjecture.7

Consequently, although Wordsworth continued to defend the value of

these poems, he never again based his style and arrangement so

completely upon the imitation of rustic diction, syntax, and processes

of association.

In fact, Wordsworth himself almost immediately recognized the

limitations of this rustic language, and in the poems he added to

Lyrical Ballads in 1800, he omitted many of its peculiarities, Perhaps

the most striking change was in his narrating voice. As Marjorie

Barstow Greenbie has noted, Wordsworth adopts in these poems what she

calls "the tone of cultivated conversation"; in this tone, his

language is "easy, flexible, straight-forward, controlling the passion

and the details, not controlled by them."8 Consequently, the narrator

of these poems functions as a guide or interpreter for the reader

rather than as an unself-conscious genius loci. He speaks, as Greenbie

concludes, as "a quiet, intelligent, sympathetic observer, who passes

on what he has seen to an equally intelligent and sympathetic reader,

in language unadorned, but perfectly adequate."

The general reorientation reflected by this change in voice had

two important effects upon Wordsworth's poetry. First, his increasing

emphasis upon the ethos of the speaker encouraged the use of blank

verse and a more discursive language. When his poems had used a

selection of rustic diction and syntax arranged according to the

"natural" associations of the rustic mind, only versification could

invest them with the dissimilitudee in similitude" necessary for the

creation of pleasure; although the language is "common" (in a

Coleridgean sense), the artifice of verse preserves it from being dis-

gusting.0 Furthermore, an imitated language must frequently fall

short of its aspirations, and in meter Wordsworth similarly found a

corrective. In the "Preface," for example, he suggests that "if the

Poet's words should be incommensurate with the passion, and inadequate

to raise the Reader to a height of desirable excitement," then, in

meter itself "there will be found something which will greatly contri-

bute to impart passion to the words, and to effect the complex end

which the poet proposes to himself" (Prose Works, I, 148). When the

poet speaks in his own voice, however, the adequacy of his speech


is guaranteed by the sincerity of his passion rather than the strength

of his powers of imitation, thus making the balancing and supplementing

presence of meter less important, if not distracting.

Second, while description continued to be important, it became

internalized, increasingly significant for what it communicated about

the speaker rather than simply the subject itself. The recognition

that description can convey passion as well as sensation led Wordsworth

to suggest in 1815 that the first requisite of poetry was the power

"to observe with accuracy things as they are in themselves, and with

fidelity to describe them, unmodified by any passion or feeling exist-

ing in the mind of the describer," and the second, "to observe objects,

both as they exist in themselves and as re-acted upon by his own mind"

(Prose Works, III, 26). This second sort of description was already

beginning to dominate the poems he added in 1800; in a passage partic-

ularly applicable to these new poems, he suggested the subjective

nature of his descriptions: "I believe that my habits of meditation

have so formed my feelings, that my descriptions of such objects as

strongly excite those feelings, will be found to carry along with them

a purpose" (Prose Works, I, 126). As he continues, he further explains

how affective description actually arises out of thought and feeling,

and not sensation alone:

For our continued influxes of feelings are
modified and directed by our thoughts, which
are indeed the representatives of all our
past feelings so by the repetition and
continuance of this act feelings connected
with the important subjects will be nourished,
till at length such habits of mind will
be produced that by obeying blindly and
mechanically the impulses of those habits we

shall describe objects and utter sentiments
of such a nature and in such connection
with each other, that the understanding
of the being to whom we address ourselves,
if he be in a healthful state of association,
must necessarily be in some degree enlightened,
his taste exalted, and his affections
(Prose Works, I, 126, emphasis mine)

As Wordsworth explains here, vivid descriptions and a natural, affect-

ing presentation originate in the poetic soul rather than in rustic

experience; such internalized description, prompted by the poet's own

habits of meditation instead of the rustic's patterns of association,

are as much his own as the sentiments accompanying them. Landscape is

important, not only because it encourages vivacity through sensation,

but because, as he notes in his discussion of "The Brothers," moral

attachments are especially strong when they are associated with "the

great and beautiful objects of nature" (Prose Works, I, 126-127).

It is just this sort of persona and description Wordsworth adopted

in "Michael." In this poem the narrator is a friendly and intelligent

guide who, having his own moral attachments formed in the presence of

nature, now attempts to relate the same to his companion/reader:

If from the public way you turn your steps
Up the tulmultuous brook of Green-head Ghyll,
You will suppose that with an upright path
Your feet must struggle; in such a bold ascent
The pastoral mountains front you, face to face.
But courage! for around that boisterous brook
The mountains have all opened out themselves,
And made a hidden valley of their own.

Nor should I have made mention of this Dell
But for one object which you might pass by,
Might see and notice not. Beside the brook
Appears a straggling heap of unhewn stones!

And to that simple object appertains
A story -- unenriched with strange events,
Yet not unfit, I deem, for the fireside,
Or for the summer shade.
(Poetical Works, II, 80-81)

Unlike the rustic narrators of "Goody Blake and Harry Gill" or

"The Thorn," the speaker here obviously identifies more closely with

his readers than with his rustic subjects and characters. As a result,

the diction here is raised, and the syntax more sophisticated. Instead

of the loosely connective "and" we find the more sophisticated prolep-

tic junctures of "Nor should I have made mention" and "not unfit";

while the sentences are still loosely constructed, they develop ideas

rather than simple "eddy" about a single affecting incident.

However, like the earlier rustic narrators, the speaker of "Michael"

has a "tale" to tell. Wordsworth is not yet willing to ascribe all

rhetorical power to expression and internalized description alone; as

in "Simon Lee," he still sees the chief moral value residing in the

"tale" rather than the telling. This narrator, to be sure, helps

immerse the landscape in moral significance, but the major emphasis

lies still upon the subject and not the narrator. As a result, the

radical understatement of a "plain and naked style" permeates this poem,

even as it had the experimental lyrical ballads of 1798. It was not, in

fact, until the revisions of 1802, when his theoretical statements

become most obviously "expressive," that he entirely adopts, in poetic

theory as well as practice, a "rhetoric of sympathy."

Eloquence and the "Preface" of 1802

In his copious revisions to the "Preface" in 1802, Wordsworth

brought into question even the modified faith in imitation he demon-

strated in "Michael." In a lengthy addition to this revised version,

for example, he acknowledges that imitation, even of the best and most

permanent objects or of the most unsophisticated speech, may fail to

excite or engage the reader's sympathy:

However exalted a notion we would wish to
cherish of the character of a Poet, it is
obvious that while he describes and imitates
passions, his situation is altogether slavish
and mechanical, compared with the freedom
and power of real and substantial action and
(Prose Works, I, 138, emphasis mine)

As a result, the poet no longer seeks to imitate and judiciously select

from the "real" language used by a particular group; instead, he engages

the sympathies of his readers by speaking passionately in his own voice:

The Poet thinks and feels in the spirit
of the passions of men. How, then, can
his language differ in any material degree
from that of all other men who feel vividly
and see clearly? Poets do not write
for Poets alone, but for men. Unless
therefore we are advocates for that admiration
which depends upon ignorance, and that
pleasure which arises from hearing what we
do not understand, the Poet must descend
from this supposed height, and, in order
to excite rational sympathy, he must
express himself as other men express themselves.
(Prose Works, I, 143)

Language is affective, not necessarily when it is rooted in sensation,

but when it arises from the common passions of men. Consequently, as


Wordsworth recognized in the strength and uniformity of human feeling

a surer foundation for his affective language than the power of art

fundamental to his earlier experiments, he sought to engage his readers

through a sympathetic identification with, and participation in, the

poet's feelings rather than through the creation of an "ideal


The extent to which Wordsworth associated this internalization of

affective power with rhetorical language and a recognizably rhetorical

tradition is evident in the headnote he added to the 1802 edition,

recording Quintilian's assertion that strong feeling is sufficient, if

not necessary, for affective language:

Pectus enim est quod disertos facit, et
vis mentis. Ideoque imperitis quoque,
si modo suit aliquo affect concitati,
verba non desunt.

[For it is feeling and force of imagination
that makes us eloquent. It is for this
reason even the uneducated have no difficulty
in finding words to express their meaning,
if only they are stirred by some strong

While this note, to be sure, functions as a defense of Wordsworth's

earlier experiments with rustic voice, it also points to his increasing

expressiveness; rather than preferable because it arises out of the

"beautiful and permanent forms of nature," rustic language is now

acceptable because even the humblest man may be eloquent when moved by


As Wordsworth associated his poetry with the expressions of

passion and imagination ("it is feeling and force of imagination that


makes us eloquent"), he increasingly came to align his poetry with the

rhetorical ideal of "eloquence." As early as 1798, as we have seen,

Wordsworth himself referred to the blank verse Recluse as "eloquence,"

while Coleridge also praised his friend's "high dogmatic Eloquence."12

The extent to which Wordsworth's associates thought of his poetry --

particularly his blank verse -- as rhetorical becomes even clearer in

Thomas De Quincey's review of Richard Whateley's Elements of Rhetoric

in 1828. After reading this piece, Wordsworth wrote Henry Crabb

Robinson that "In the same number of Blackwood is an article upon

Rhetoric, undoubtedly from De Quincey. Whatever he writes is worth

reading -- there are in it some things from my Conversation -- which the

writer does not seem aware of."13 One thing De Quincey must have been

aware of, though, was his definition of "eloquence." In the "Preface"

to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth defined poetry as "the spontaneous over-

flow of powerful feelings," and in this essay De Quincey demonstrated

how closely the two were identified, at least in his own mind, when he

similarly defined "eloquence" as "the overflow of powerful feelings upon

occasions fitted to excite them."14

When Wordsworth and his circle thus identified his poetry, and

especially his blank verse, with "eloquence," they were in fact identi-

fying it with the new rhetoricians' description of supremely affective

discourse. The new rhetoricians generally classified discourse by the

faculties it affected, whether the passions, understanding, will, or

imagination. They recognized, though, that some discourse is capable

of moving its audience both emotionally and intellectually; like Hume's

eloquence, this discourse, which they called "eloquence" or "high

eloquence," engages the audience's complete faculties through sympathy.

George Campbell, for example, defined this "eloquence" as "the grand

art of communication, not of ideas only, but of sentiments, passions,

dispositions, and purposes." In his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles

Lettres, Hugh Blair described in detail the rhetoric of sympathy by

which this "high eloquence" operates:

But there is a third, and still higher degree
of Eloquence, wherein a greater power is exerted
over the human mind; by which we are not only
convinced, but are interested, agitated, and
carried along with the Speaker; our passions
are made to rise together along with his; we
enter into all his emotions; we love, we detest,
we resent, according as he inspires us; and
are prompted to resolve, or to act, with vigour
and warmth. Debate, in popular assemblies,
opens the most illustrious field to this species
of Eloquence; and the pulpit, also admits it.16

This "high eloquence," as Blair further explains, is natural, spontane-

ous, and infinitely more affective than "art," or imitation:

I am here to observe, and the observation is
of consequence, that the high Eloquence which
I have last mentioned, is always the offspring
of passion. By passion, I mean that state of
mind in which it is agitated, and fired, by
some object it has in view. A man may convince,
and even persuade others to act, by mere reason
and argument. But that degree of Eloquence
which gains the admiration of mankind, and
properly denominates one an Orator, is never
found without warmth and passion. Passion,
when in such a degree as to rouse and kindle
the mind, without throwing it out of the
possession of itself, is universally found to
exalt all the human powers. It renders the
mind infinitely more enlightened, more
penetrating, more vigorous and masterly, than
it is in its calm moments. But chiefly,
with respect to persuasion, is the power of

passion felt. Almost every man, in passion,
is eloquent. Then he is at no loss for
words and arguments. He transmits to others,
by a sort of contagious sympathy, the warm
sentiments which he feels: his looks and
gestures are all persuasive; and Nature here
shows herself infinitely more powerful than Art.
(Lectures on Rhetoric, II, 6-7)

Blair, of course, bases this description upon the same passage in

Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria that Wordsworth cited as the headnote

to the 1802 edition; "almost every man," he explains, "in passion is

eloquent." This common appeal to the same classical authority, in turn,

underscores the radical affinity of their rhetoric of sympathy.

In the rhetorical ideal of "eloquence, then, Wordsworth apparently

discovered the foundation of his mature poetic voice. Functioning,

like Wordsworth's literature of power, through sympathetic identifica-

tion with a passionate speaker, "eloquence" was well suited first to

Wordsworth's concern with the creation of "taste." Just as Wordsworth's

literature of power creates taste by "establishing that dominion over

the spirits of readers by which they are to be humbled and humanized,

in order that they may be purified and exalted," so Blair argues here

that "high eloquence" is "universally found to exalt all the human

powers." Secondly, in the concept of eloquence Wordsworth discovered

a rhetorical mode supremely suited for moral purposes. Hugh Blair,

for example, noted that "high eloquence" belonged to the pulpit, while

George Campbell suggested that "to subdue the spirit of faction, and

that monster spiritual pride, with which it is invariably accompanied,

to inspire equity, moderation, and charity into men's sentiments and

conduct with regard to others, is the genuine test of eloquence"


(The Philosophy of Rhetoric, p. 110). Just as Wordsworth argued that

the poet permanently alters his reader's "taste," so Campbell argues

that the "christian orator" seeks permanent rather than temporary

changes in his audience: "It is not an immediate and favorable suffer-

age, but a thorough change of heart and disposition, that will satisfy

his view" (The Philosophy of Rhetoric, p. 108). Finally, the concept

of "eloquence" provided a genuinely rhetorical language while freeing

it from the demands of immediate popularity. Campbell, for example,

claimed that the elevated moral function of "eloquence" made popular

judgment of little consequence in the assessment of its quality:

"Popularity alone, therefore, is no test at all of the eloquence of the

speaker you must consider the tendency of the teaching, whether

it favors or opposes the vices of the hearers" (The Philosophy of

Rhetoric, p. 110). After he failed to receive the popular recognition

he desired, Wordsworth adopted a similar argument by dismissing the

detractors as "worldings" possessed of "bad passions."17

Peter Bell and "The Ruined Cottage": Imitation
and Eloquence in Two Conversion Poems

The effect the association of his poetry with eloquence had upon

Wordsworth's narrative relationship with his readers can perhaps best

be seen through a comparison of two conversion poems he briefly con-

sidered publishing together, presumably as complimentary pieces, in

1801. On March 10 of that year, Dorothy noted in her journal that

"William has since ten been talking about publishing the Yorkshire

olds poem with The Pdlar.18 Nothing, however, came of this project.
Wolds poem with The Pedlar." Nothing, however, came of this project.


The "Yorkshire Wolds poem," written in 1798, was not published until

1819 as Peter Bell, while "The Pedlar," first completed in 1798 as "The

Ruined Cottage," formed the core of Book I of The Excursion, published
in 1815.9 Both poems, like many of the other 1798 experiments, link

their redemptive purpose to a "tale" as they depict the moral reclama-

tion or refinement of a central character. They radically differ,

however, in their ways of transforming the "tale" into experience for

their readers, and this difference illustrates the sharp discontinuities

between a relationship with the reader based upon mimesis, and one upon


Peter Bell is an odd and, most agree, generally unsuccessful piece

based on the mimetic theory of the 1798 lyrical ballads. In this poem,

to be sure, Wordsworth seeks to move his readers' sympathies, but as he

did in "Goody Blake and Harry Gill" and "The Thorn," he not only

describes rustic characters and incidents, but also speaks through a

rustic narrator. As a result, Wordsworth never addresses his readers

in a voice recognizably his own. The distance imposed by this mimetic

faith in the communicative power of rustic speech and processes of

thought is further heightened by this poem's complex narrative structure.

The narrator first whimsically addresses his readers in a long verse

prologue, defending his choice of a humble subject in an argument

closely resembling the one he made in the 1800 "Preface":

Long have I loved what I behold,
The night that calms, the day that cheers;
The common growth of mother-earth
Suffices me -- her fears, her mirth,
Her humblest mirth and tears.

The dragon's wing, the magic ring,
I shall not covet for my dower,
If I along that lowly way
With sympathetic heart may stray,
And with a soul of power.

These given, what more need I desire
To soothe, to stir, to elevate?
What nobler marvels than the mind
May in life's daily prospect find,
May find or there create.
(Poetical Works, II, 336-337)

In the remainder of the poem, though, the narrator does not address his

readers, but the rustic coterie who has assembled to hear the tale of

Peter Bell. After this point, then, sympathy is further hampered; as

the narrator relates his "tale" to a third party, his readers are asked

to identify his feelings not with the narrator's, but with the rustic's

whose conversion he describes.

The tale itself is divided into three parts as Wordsworth seeks

to trace, through the narrator's description, the course of a conversion

in a rustic and superstitious mind. In the first part he introduces

Peter Bell, a potter insensitive to nature's beauty who joined a "savage

wildness" with "whatever vice / The cruel city breeds" (11. 299-300).

Angrily finding himself in a secluded dale after losing his way one

night, Peter decides to steal an ass he discovers loitering by the

river's side. The ass stubbornly refuses to budge, though, and as Peter

savagely beats the braying animal, his fear of being discovered is

transformed into stark terror when he sees in the river the face of the

ass's drowned owner. The second Part traces the ebb and flow of the

potter's contradictory emotions. Initially broken by his fear and

admiration for the ass's loyalty, Peter is moved to pity the drowned


man and mounts the ass to find the unfortunate man's family. While on

his way, he hears the man's son calling for his father in the hills

above; as the ass tries to follow the boy's voice, Peter's admiration

for the lowly animal leads him to a sense of his own sinfulness and a

"conviction strange" that "he soon or late / This very night will meet

his fate" (11. 693-694). As the third Part opens, Peter tries to ease

his stricken conscience, only to have an underground explosion set off

by miners revive his fear. Passing a small chapel where he married his

sixth wife, "a sweet and playful Highland girl" who died of a broken

heart when she learned of her husband's wild and immoral life, Peter's

sense of guilt revives as well and he falls again under "strong com-

pulsion and remorse." Even at this moment he passes a meeting house

where a "fervent Methodist," preaching repentance, melts Peter into

tears of "hope and tenderness" that work his regeneration:

Sweet tears of hope and tenderness!
And fast they fell, a plenteous shower!
His nerves, his sinews seemed to melt;
Through all his iron frame was felt
A gentle, a relaxing power!

Each fibre of his frame was weak;
Weak all the animal within;
But in its helplessness, grew mild
And gentle as an infant child,
An infant that has known no sin.
(11. 961-970)

Finally, as Peter arrives at the drowned man's home and confronts the

man's widow, he is sanctified by Nature:

Beside the Woman Peter stands;
His heart is opening more and more;