Political Tracts of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley

Political Tracts of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley

Political Tracts of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley

Political Tracts of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley

Excerpt

The texts reprinted in this volume were originally intended by their authors as 'Tracts for the Times'--the distressed and dangerous times of the Napoleonic wars and the immediately post-war years. The first in time, Wordsworth Convention of Cintra, was published in 1809. The last, Shelley Philosophical View of Reform, was composed in 1820. Coleridge's two lay sermons belong to the years 1816 and 1817 respectively, the darkest of the post-war years. In each case, the author was passionately convinced that what he had to say was of vital and immediate importance to his countrymen. Time, indeed, was of the essence. Wordsworth, writing far into the night in his Lakeland cottage, felt himself to be at the very heart of the storm. Coleridge, composing lay sermons in his attic-room over Dr Gillman's house on Highgate Hill, may have been what Carlyle called him--'a sage escaped from the inanity of life's battle'--but he was well aware that he was still 'attracting towards him the thoughts of innumerable brave souls still engaged there'. Shelley, self-exiled at the Villa Valsovano near Leghorn, was awakened by the distant fratricidal tumult of Peterloo as by a trumpet:

As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the sea . . .

Not that any of them can be said to have had the slightest effect upon the immediate course of events. The Convention of Cintra was published too late, and most of the copies went as paper-linings for the trunk-makers. As for the Lay Sermons, they were preached to the converted, and when they were sampled by the liberal intelligence of a Sarah Wedgwood they appeared to be 'an affectation of the most sublime and important meaning and so much no-meaning in reality . . .'. As for . . .

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