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Thread: Wordsworth's Personality

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    Wordsworth's Personality

    I recently read a statement about it sometimes being hard to separate Wordsworth's poetry from his unattractive/repellent personality. I was a bit surprised by it. Although I have found some of his behavior in the Annette Vallon affair rather reprehensible, my tremendous love of Wordsworth's poetry has perhaps led me to associate the man too closely with his work. I know there were also disagreements with Coleridge in the later years, but I am not familiar with the details. Sometimes I can be a very naive reader, when I love an author as I do Wordsworth.

    Anyways, any thoughts?

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    I just found the quote I was referring to. "To be fair to Wordsworth it is necessary to dissociate his unattractive personality from his work."

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    Hi LM3,
    Well, for what it's worth, this is my slant on it....
    Wordsworth had a tough upbringing with numerous losses, financial insecurity and early rejection of his poetic efforts, and it was not until he was recognised by key London critics, such as Samuel Rogers and Richard “Conversation” Sharp,(c.1800) that his career began to take off, albeit with many sceptics continuing to ridicule his poetic efforts.
    I once calculated that Wordsworth must have walked more than 180,000 miles in his lifetime and he talked as much as he walked – which may have put some off him! “Conversation” Sharp – acclaimed then as one of the most popular men in London - certainly liked Wordsworth and the two families maintained life-long contact. Wordsworth’s extensive letter-writing further suggests that he was popular and accepted by many of his time. To the envy of Coleridge, he was also adulated and doted upon by his family. Apart from such recognition by those around him, I do not see how such feelingful poetry as his could have emanated from an essentially negative personality.
    Personally, I do think he was haunted by insecurity stemming from his early experiences for much of his life and perhaps the constancy of the beauty of nature that he perceived around him helped to bolster him against this. In those days his physiognomy – especially his Roman forehead / noseline – was seen as an indicator of personal strength of character. He was a very strong personality, that’s for sure, and perhaps that’s why some lesser mortals found him a bit overpowering or hard to relate to, but ‘repellent’ seems quite unjustified .
    What do you think ?

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    Thankyou for the thoughts, MmeDeStael. Your answer was informative and interesting.

    So was the rift from Coleridge prompted by Coleridge's jealousy?

    My opinion is mostly contained in my original post. Wordsworth is my favorite poet, so it's easy for me to see all his positive aspects and associate his poetry with his personality. But I've got to agree with you, if he had been a "repellent" person it would have been almost impossible for him to write such wonderful poetry.

    I knew that he and Dorothy walked prolifically, but I was not aware that he talked a great deal. That's not the impression I would have gained from "Personal Talk".

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    Wait, Coleridge had several problems due to his addiction, but I never heard about him writting anything but the praise that Wordsworth was the best poet he ever knew. Wordsworth was more judgmental towards Coleridge (Considered excluding Ancient Mariner from editions of Lyrical Ballads, sniffed up the Biographia Literaria, specially the personal approach of Coleridge and his "correction" to the preface of Lyricall Ballads).
    Their disagreement was born probally from the aesthetic views of both, specially the one that gave origem of the Suspension of Disbelief concept. Coleridge "corrected" Wordsworth notion of natural language (I think Coleridge rather completed Wordsworth ideal with a critical explanation) and Wordsworth seems to think that was irrelevant.
    Latter, Coleridge sickness and addiction made him a hard to deal person and Wordsworth and him got in some more personal quarrells. Since Wordsworth was already hard to deal, they became less attached.

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    Thankyou for the information. I simply didn't remember the circumstances of the rift.

    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    Their disagreement was born probally from the aesthetic views of both, specially the one that gave origem of the Suspension of Disbelief concept. Coleridge "corrected" Wordsworth notion of natural language (I think Coleridge rather completed Wordsworth ideal with a critical explanation) and Wordsworth seems to think that was irrelevant.
    Could you explain more about the Suspension of Disbelief concept, and their disagreement over it?
    And in "Wordsworth's notion of natural language", do you mean his trying to use the language of his subjects?

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    In a simple way, in the preface of LB, Wordsworth explains that he and coleridge decided to use each different language than what was used by poets (They both had some reservation to Pope, but if I recall well, it was Erasmus Darwin the main target). So, Coleridge would use the kind of language derivated from popular forms, what we consider the Gothic and Wordsworth of the simlpe peope, country (not exactly this).
    If you recall, a lot of negative critics were directed to Wordsworth choose of subjects and he defended it and pointed that he used the language of those people, creating poetry from it, so the subjects were not the problem but how to use it.
    Coleridge felt there was a mistake, Wordsworth did not used the ordinary language, and his language was anything but stilized. Then he came with the idea of Suspension of Disbelief, which he felt was essentional for poets, for to him, poetry is not a natural language, but a highly stilized form. (Coleridge was not very keen to prose either, exactly because Prose approached to ordinary language). So, it would be necessary for the reader to believe that was the natural language, that people would talk in verses, etc and and a proof of Wordsworth talent was how he managed to so.
    I would think both the Preface and Coleridge Literary Biography are masterpieces of poetical ideals and vision.

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    It's sometimes hard to imagine an unpleasent person producing works of such emotional depth and beauty, but there are quite a few of them. Beethoven, for example, was an utter bastard by all accounts. Snorri Sturluson stole a lot of money from some very poor people. The list goes on!

    Have a read of Roland Barthes' Death of the Author - it is quite often useful to forget all about the creator when dealing with a work of art!
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    Yes true, but I don't think Wordsworth was such a bad fellow, a little priggish by some accounts maybe.

    Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

    I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
    Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

    Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    In a simple way, in the preface of LB, Wordsworth explains that he and coleridge decided to use each different language than what was used by poets (They both had some reservation to Pope, but if I recall well, it was Erasmus Darwin the main target). So, Coleridge would use the kind of language derivated from popular forms, what we consider the Gothic and Wordsworth of the simlpe peope, country (not exactly this).
    If you recall, a lot of negative critics were directed to Wordsworth choose of subjects and he defended it and pointed that he used the language of those people, creating poetry from it, so the subjects were not the problem but how to use it.
    Coleridge felt there was a mistake, Wordsworth did not used the ordinary language, and his language was anything but stilized. Then he came with the idea of Suspension of Disbelief, which he felt was essentional for poets, for to him, poetry is not a natural language, but a highly stilized form. (Coleridge was not very keen to prose either, exactly because Prose approached to ordinary language). So, it would be necessary for the reader to believe that was the natural language, that people would talk in verses, etc and and a proof of Wordsworth talent was how he managed to so.
    I would think both the Preface and Coleridge Literary Biography are masterpieces of poetical ideals and vision.
    So what would Coleridge have considered the solution to this Suspension of Disbelief?

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    Hi again LM3:
    sorry for the delay in replying....

    "So was the rift from Coleridge prompted by Coleridge's jealousy?"

    Probably prompted by his increasing instability rather than jealousy per se. I'm sure Coleridge did grow jealous of Wordsworth's success, of his female supporters, family, etc but I think the seeds of this were sown much earlier in his life. I'm sure you will be aware that Coleridge suffered a difficult and deprived childhood; as the youngest of a family of ten, his father died when he was nine years old and he possibly never forgave his mother for his placement at such a young age at the austere Christ’s Hospital school in London, so far from his country home in Devon. By all accounts he was already a nervous, sensitive child when he left home and while he was at boarding school not only was he poorly fed – ‘our appetites were damped never satisfied - and we had no vegetables’ – but he was only able to form one or two friendships with other boys.
    The evidence, from analysing his later dreams, from his behaviour and from the content of his poetry, points strongly to the possibility of serious abuse in Coleridge’s early life, but the extent or form this may have taken, is unclear. In his later school years, academic success brought him some degree of consolation and happiness but in his earlier childhood he saw himself as a ‘depressed, moping, friendless poor orphan’. It seems to me that he subsequently went through life thinking, metaphorically, that the best food always lay temptingly on the next person's plate, and always eluded him. If, as may be likely, neither his emotional nor his physical needs were properly met during his formative years then psychologically he may have perceived the ‘locus of control’ as always remaining outside himself – feeling at best a pawn, at worst a victim.


    "I knew that he and Dorothy walked prolifically, but I was not aware that he talked a great deal. That's not the impression I would have gained from "Personal Talk"."

    The poet Samuel Rogers felt that he could not compete with Wordsworth at his breakfasts. One observer, comparing these two great poets, described how he was on one occasion "listening to Rogers and hearing Wordsworth, the gentle rill of one being broken into by the loud splashes of the other". It was apparently once said of Burns that "he is great in verse, greater in prose and greatest in conversation". Rogers said such a statement was true of all great men and that "Wordsworth is greatest in conversation".
    Many of Wordsworth's contemporaries were amazed at how quickly he could write poetry. I think there is good evidence from his extensive letter writing that he was exceptionally verbal in this medium too. He seems to have had enormous physical energy so my conclusion is that he was surely a very good converser who liked to flutter and dance with the best talkers. No shy, retiring violet he !
    Last edited by MmeDeStael; 08-12-2010 at 07:09 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by L.M. The Third View Post
    So what would Coleridge have considered the solution to this Suspension of Disbelief?
    It is not a problem to need a solution, rather the motive why the poetic effects occur. Colerdige critical contribution is one of the most fundamental aspects of his work.

    And I have no idea why people are stressing Coleridge as envious of Wordsworth. He praised Wordsworth continuously while Wordsworth looked with contempt to works of Coleridge which everyone knows today are fundamental works of english literature. Midly putting, Coleridge just knew much more about literature than Wordsworth himself, just being a drugg addict and bipolar person, could not show any continuous effort.

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    Sorry, LM3, just realised I may have missed the point as you were enquiring about the rift with Wordsworth. Yes, in some ways this was a process over a period of time but the specific events of 1810 are usually referred to when, in October, Coleridge set off South calling in at Grasmere where by an unhappy coincidence Basil Montagu, a mutual acquaintance, was visiting the Wordsworths on his way back to London. Although Wordsworth had warned him of Coleridge’s erratic nature and tried to dissuade him from making the offer, Montagu insisted on sharing his coach with Coleridge and on providing accommodation for him when they reached London. Coleridge accepted the offer, but when they arrived at Frith St., Soho, the now famous squabble broke out and Montagu blurted out some of the warning remarks that Wordsworth had confided to him. The exact nature of the exchange is unclear, but amounted to the following, and Montagu’s use of the word ‘commissioned’ particularly upset Coleridge…
    ‘Wordsworth has commissioned me to tell you that he has no hope of you, that you have been a rotten drunkard and rotted out your entrails by intemperance, and have been an absolute nuisance in his family.’
    Coleridge was shocked and taken aback by such an outburst and in his present vulnerable state he felt completely numbed and betrayed by his old friend. He was so upset that he withdrew to Hudson’s hotel nearby to think through his long relationship with Wordsworth and the more he thought the more his suspicions festered. In his morose state, stories soon began to circulate about him in London and Coleridge became convinced that not only did no one love him now but that no one had ever loved him. In the months that followed his suffering became acute. He quarrelled with his doctor, Dr Carlisle, and changed lodgings frequently. In April 1811, still brooding, he wrote to Daniel Stuart…
    ‘So deep and rankling is the wound which Wordsworth has wantonly and without the slightest provocation inflicted in return for 15 years’ most enthusiastic, self-despising & Alas! Self-injuring Friendship..that I cannot return to Grasmere or it’s vicinity.’
    Things were never quite the same again.

    Maybe this is what you were alluding to ?

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    Wordsworth's Personality

    This is an awfully big question. I think that it is true that many people see Wordsworth as a serious and austere person but there is plenty of evidence that this is not entirely the case. Perhaps I may suggest a few counter-examples.

    1. His description of his school days at Hawkshead in the first book of "The Prelude" suggest that he got on well with his peers and enjoyed normal schoolboy games with them;
    2. Further evidence of a sociable nature is provided in Book Three of “The Prelude” which is concerned with his first year at Cambridge.
    "...for, through youth,
    Though I had been trained up to stand unpropped,
    And independent musings pleased me so
    That spells seemed on me when I was alone,
    Yet could I only cleave to solitude
    In lonesome places – if a throng was near
    That way I leaned by nature, for my heart
    Was social and loved idleness and joy."

    This suggests that although he enjoyed his own company he equally took pleasure in others.
    3. The tenth sonnet in the "Duddon" Sonnets, describes a courting couple crossing the river via Stepping Stones. This is a closely observed description from a man who has loved!

    It is not possible in a short post to discuss fully the Annette Vallon affair, but it is important that we should judge Wordsworth's behaviour against the norms of his own times rather than our own.

    With regards to Coleridge, I think that on balance Wordsworth was remarkable generous in his behaviour to him.

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