Context: When William Wordsworth (1770–1850) began, with Lyrical Ballads (1798), to write poetry in a new vein, he pleased some of the public and exasperated a larger part of it, by not writing in a "poetical" manner. Because of his stated intention to write about everyday matters, which he was to render poetical by his treatment of them, he undeniably wrote a fairly large amount of dull verse–although it must be admitted that he also wrote some of the finest of English poetry. Francis Jeffrey, the critic who had the least patience with the dull works, wrote a number of reviews castigating the poet for foisting such productions on the public. The present review is of The Excursion, a work of 447 pages detailing three days of the poet's wanderings in the English Lake Country. Wordsworth's statement that this large mass of verse was but a portion of a longer work, The Recluse, was too much for Jeffrey's patience. He begins his review thus:
This will never do! It bears no doubt the stamp of the author's heart and fancy: but unfortunately not half so visibly as that of his peculiar system. His former poems were intended to recommend that system, and to bespeak favor for it by their individual merit;–but this, we suspect, must be recommended by the system–and can only expect to succeed where it has been previously established. It is longer, weaker, and tamer, than any of Mr. Wordsworth's other productions; with less boldness of originality, and less even of that extreme simplicity and lowliness of tone which wavered so prettily in the Lyrical Ballads, between silliness and pathos. We have imitations of Cowper, and even of Milton here; engrafted on the natural drawl of the Lakers–and all diluted into harmony by that profuse and irrepressible wordiness which deluges all the blank verse of this school of poetry, and lubricates and weakens the whole structure of their style.