Wordsworth, Joseph Johnson, and the Salisbury Plain Poems

By Byrne, Joseph | Wordsworth Circle, Spring-Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Wordsworth, Joseph Johnson, and the Salisbury Plain Poems


Byrne, Joseph, Wordsworth Circle


In December, 1792, on his return from France, Wordsworth brought the manuscripts of An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches to Joseph Johnson for publication. Johnson was a respected, successful and well-known liberal publisher, friendly to authors who supported religious dissent, parliamentary reform, and the French Revolution, including many that Wordsworth admired: William Godwin, Mary Woll-stonecraft, and Coleridge. Seeing liberal sentiments in the poems, Johnson agreed to publish them. Wordsworth would continue to think of Johnson as his publisher until 1799; Johnson, however, did not seem to think much of Wordsworth after 1793. He published Wordsworth's poems separately as quarto pamphlets and featured them in the Analytical Review, but after low sales and poor reviews, Johnson forgot about him. This failure may have contributed to Wordsworth's life-long dread of publishing and to his break from Johnson--a break which becomes a subtext in the Salisbury Plain poem, his next major work, which, after many revisions, was finally published in 1842.

As well as being a liberal publisher, Johnson figures prominently in the bourgeois public sphere of the 1790, Habermas described in The Structural Transformation of the Public, Sphere as "a forum in which the private people, come together to form a public, readied themselves to compel public authority to legitimate itself before public opinion" (25). The "people's public use of their reason," was the leading characteristic of the public sphere and Enlightenment practice (27) and Johnson, who published dissenters, reformers, and other Enlightenment thinkers, was a major "stakeholder" in the British public sphere of the 1790s. After the French Revolution this public sphere had become a highly-contested space for civic debate, unlike the Augustan public sphere that Habermas discusses. In the 1790s, the public sphere was, in the words of Terry Eagleton, "fissured and warped," a site of intense ideological conflict or a propaganda war (37). The consensus among Whig reformers, religious dissenters in the early 1790s was disrupted by reactionary organizations and publications aligned with the government, closing off the public sphere until the end of the war with France. A propaganda war created "counter-publics" split off from the public sphere. (1)

The multiple versions of Wordsworth's Salisbury Plain poem reflects this contentious public sphere. The first version, "A Night of Salisbury Plain" (1793), shows his attempt to create a poem that Johnson might publish, representing Johnson's reformist and dissenting agenda, at a time when such an agenda was considered treasonous. The second version of the poem, entitled "Adventures on Salisbury Plain" (1795), exhibits the influence of William Godwin and what I call his rationalist "counter-public," which functioned as a discursive site critical of the larger public sphere that Johnson represented. Finally, the most famous version of the Salisbury Plain poem, "The Female Vagrant" in Lyrical Ballads (1798), reflects Wordsworth's own rustic "counter-public" in the West Country, created in conjunction with Coleridge and Dorothy Wordsworth. It also represents Wordsworth's last effort to re-enter the public sphere while it was being dismantled by reactionary critics.

The story behind Wordsworth's Salisbury Plain poem: while traveling through Salisbury Plain, Wordsworth and William Calvert were involved in an accident that destroyed their carriage. Miraculously unharmed, decided to split up, with Calvert heading north and Wordsworth west, towards Wales. For two or three days, Wordsworth wandered the bleak Salisbury Plain, composing as he went his first version of the poem. This version reflects Wordsworth's intense isolation now that Britain was at war with France and he was separated from his Annette Vallon and their child, Caroline, in France. For Wordsworth, the cannons, on both sides, were pointed at people he knew.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Wordsworth, Joseph Johnson, and the Salisbury Plain Poems
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.