The story of Biographia Literaria begins in a conversation between two friends, Wordsworth and Coleridge, both settled in the Lake District after their return from Germany in 1799. They were debating what form a second edition of the Lyrical Ballads should take to replace the exhausted edition of 1798. In the course of a walk the idea of replacing the brief Advertisement by a critical Preface was conceived. In the aged memory of Wordsworth many years after, the idea and indeed the very substance of the Preface as he came to write it were all Coleridge's. 'I have never cared a straw about the theory,' he wrote impatiently on the manuscript of Barron Fields biography of him, 'and the Preface was written at the request of Mr. Coleridge out of sheer good nature. I recollect the very spot, a deserted quarry in the Vale of Grasmere, where he pressed the thing upon me, and but for that it would never have been thought of.' By 1815, of course, when he came to write the Biographia, the Preface was 'Wordsworth' and the Biographia Coleridge's reply to Wordsworth but the simplification is much too crude. It poses and tries to answer two closely connected questions: first, what relation should the language of poetry bear to that of ordinary life? And secondly, what relation should the subject of poetry bear to itself? (The order in which the questions are put look irrational, but it is Wordsworth's own order and there are good reasons for it.) The answers of the Preface are 'the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation' and 'the incidents of common life.' These two questions, or rather Coleridge's attempt to modify and clarify the old answers to them, are together the central theme of the second half of the Biographia.
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- Accessible book
- Biography & Autobiography
- English poetry
- History and criticism
- Literary Criticism
- Wordsworth, William, 1770-1850. Lyrical ballads
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