Preface to Lyrical Ballads Questions and Answers
by William Wordsworth

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What hope did worthword's friends hold for the success of Lyrical Ballads?

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Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems was published in 1798. It was written by both William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who were great friends and colleagues. As the poets themselves wrote in the preface to the book of poetry,

The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.

The poems in the book were written earlier that same year. The families of Wordsworth and Coleridge were neighbors in the bucolic village of Holford, Somerset. While staying there in the spring and summer of that year, the poets walked and talked together and came up with the idea of trying out what they hoped would be a new voice for poetry—"human passions, human characters and human incidents"—that flew in the face of typical English writing of the period. They wanted to seriously write about the lives of everyday people, rather than writing in the overblown, grandiose style of the characters who filled novels and poetry. They would write as people actually spoke. They offered the book as a manifesto that would reinvigorate English letters and art.

When published, Lyrical Ballards was a modest success. It would be rewritten and added to in subsequent editions (mostly by Wordsworth, who added several poems to the 1800 edition, though Coleridge also rewrote much of his Rime of the Ancient Mariner after receiving critiques of the poem from Wordsworth and other friends). Interestingly, many of Wordsworth's poems from the book were also published separately in various periodicals over the next ten years. The poems became more and more popular as time went on.

Thomas de Quincey, a young contemporary of Wordsworth and Coleridge, was a teenager (and a radical) when the book was published. He wrote at the time:

I found in these poems "the ray of a new morning," and an absolute revelation of untrodden worlds teeming with power and beauty as yet unsuspected amongst men.

De Quincey's most famous and infamous later work was Confessions of an Opium Eater.

One of the reasons why Wordsworth's poems were so popular in the periodicals is that, at the time, humanitarian writing and poetry was quite popular. So, the form and content of the poetry was not in itself revolutionary, and various contemporaries of Wordsworth were not impressed that Lyrical Ballads was a "new voice of poetry," as the authors had hoped. However, what did impress virtually everyone at the time was the book's excellence and how Wordsworth wanted to "give pleasure" that was "easy and light" with his poems—a very radical idea.

As his contemporary, the philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill wrote,

What made Wordsworth's poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not merely outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty.

Wordsworth wanted to give us poetry where we could feel intimate sympathy with rural life and people, in a simple, down-to-earth style. He also wanted to reinvent poetry in a revolutionary manner. This did not happen exactly as he envisioned. However, his work excited and engaged many of his fellow friends and colleagues and, judging from their popularity in newspapers, many everyday readers of the time as well. And without doubt the works of Wordsworth and Coleridge were key to the start of the Romantic movement in literature.

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