Lucy Revived

                                        by H. J. Jackson

 [Jackson, H. J. "Lucy Revived." Romanticism On the Net 13 (February 1999) <>]

I must begin this short paper by outlining the main points of the debate about the "Lucy Poems." Wordsworth composed three
of them late in 1798 and published them one after the other, each of them untitled, in the 1800, 1802, and 1805 Lyrical
Ballads: these were ‘Strange fits of passion I have known,’ ‘She dwelt among th’untrodden ways,’ and ‘A slumber did my
spirit seal.’ They are all concerned with love and grief; the first two of them use the name Lucy. They are set apart from the
titled poem ‘Lucy Gray,’ which has to do with the death of a child and not a grown woman, and also from the untitled ‘Three
years she grew,’ which reflects upon the death of a beloved young woman named Lucy. In 1802, Wordsworth tried to add
another untitled poem that names Lucy, ‘I travelled among unknown men,’ to follow ‘A slumber,’ but the printer let him down.
In the 1815 Poems, he kept the first two poems together and added ‘I travelled’ to the set, but printed ‘Three years’ and ‘A
slumber’ in a different section. Some of Wordsworth’s contemporaries referred to the poems about a grown Lucy--four or
five, depending on whether you count ‘A slumber’--as a group, and Victorian editors reinforced this way of thinking by printing
them all together as a series, although Wordsworth himself had never done so. Some readers argued for the inclusion of other
poems such as ‘She was a phantom of delight’ and ‘Among all lovely things my love had been’ (another naming Lucy; also
known under the title ‘The Glow-Worm’). The critical establishment amused itself with biographical speculation and
source-hunting until 1965, when Hugh Sykes-Davies blew the whole thing apart by showing that the supposed Lucy cycle was
a fiction made up by editors, anthologizers, and parodists. In his excellent recent book, The ‘Lucy Poems’: A Case Study in
Literary Knowledge, Mark Jones agrees, on the whole, with Sykes-Davies, describing the grouping as ‘an editorial decision,
an interpretive simplification’ of Wordsworth’s ‘broken and shifting lyrical orderings’. (1) Case closed.

Well, no, not entirely. Jones’s concern is with the reception of Wordsworth’s work. He works forward from the time of
publication to the present, using compelling critical analysis to show how one generation after another has made over the
Wordsworthian corpus to reflect its own interests, including Sykes-Davies’s New Critical agenda. He himself, interested in
ambiguity, indeterminacy, and reader response, is ready to concede that Wordsworth’s groupings hinted at connections, teased
and encouraged readers to make connections; he believes that Wordsworth expected ‘to provoke the constructive activity of
readers’ (Jones 3). But he declares that ‘If it is easy now to "recognize" the "Lucy Poems" as early instances of "internal
narrative," this category was not fully viable when they were first composed’ (Jones 87). If you look back instead of forward,
however, it is possible to find a precedent for the implicit narrative sequence in a scattered and shifting series of lyric poems
about another Lucy--Lucy Fortescue Lyttelton.

Lucy Fortescue was married to George Lyttelton of Hagley Park, Worcestershire, in 1742. She bore three children, two of
whom survived her, and died at the age of 29 in 1747. Her husband was a rising MP with powerful family connections; he later
became a Chancellor of the Exchequer and the first Baron Lyttelton. He remarried in 1749, but the second marriage ended in a
separation. He was a man of letters and a patron of literature. He seems to have been a kind person: he came to be known as
‘the good Lord Lyttelton’; Tom Jones is dedicated to him. When Wordsworth was growing up, Lyttelton’s was still a name to
conjure with. Everyone knew the ‘Monody’ that he had written to honor the memory of his first wife: it had been published
separately in 1747 and then included in editions of his collected works from 1774 onwards, in anthologies such as Vicesimus
Knox’s Elegant Extracts in Verse, and eventually, with a biographical preface, in Johnson’s, Anderson’s, and Chalmers’s
sets of the works of British poets. Wordsworth probably used Knox’s collection at school; he owned an Anderson, though not
until about 1800. According to Duncan Wu, he had certainly read Lyttelton’s ‘Monody’ by 1786. (2) In his ‘Essay on
Epitaphs’ (1810), Wordsworth alludes to Lyttelton’s ‘Monody’ and the ‘Epitaph’ that he wrote for his Lucy, both of which are
included in Knox and Anderson. We can be confident that they were familiar to him by the time he published his own Lucy
poems. Given the demand for separate editions of Lyttelton’s work, besides the anthologies, in the 1770s and 80s, we can
assume that they were familiar to Wordsworth’s readers as well.

I do not mean to suggest that the connection between Lyttelton and Wordsworth has gone altogether unnoticed, though it has
certainly gone unexplored. In 1929, H. W. Garrod favored Samuel Rogers as a precedent for the choice of the name Lucy, but
conceded that ‘There are Lucys in poetry, of course, long before Rogers. There is Tickell’s Colin and Lucy. There is the Lucy
of Lyttelton’s best-known poem. And there is ...’ and so the catalogue continues. (3) Lyttelton’s name tends to crop up
derivatively when people are doing this, surveying earlier Lucys. But I really wonder whether anybody has ever taken the
trouble to go back and read Lyttelton. Garrod failed to notice that there are some verbal echoes from the ‘Monody’ in the
Wordsworth poems that make the link somewhat stronger than it is for Rogers or Tickell, for example ‘the rolling year its
various course perform’d,’ looking forward to Wordsworth’s ‘rolled round in earth’s diurnal course.’ But it is much more
significant that in the twentieth century nobody appears to have realized that Lyttelton did not write only one Lucy poem. In fact
he provides a precedent for the fluid grouping of loosely connected lyrics that readers and editors have stubbornly continued to
see in Wordsworth’s work.

Twelve Lucy poems, variously ordered in different editions, tell Lyttelton’s story of uneasy courtship, blissful domestic life, and
abrupt and devastating loss. I stress ‘variously ordered,’ because it indicates that readers of Wordsworth’s generation
accepted editorial decisions about organization and were capable of tracing a narrative sequence even when the parts were
dispersed. All presentations of Lyttelton’s Lucy poems as a set are posthumous and to that extent non-authorial. On the other
hand, Lyttelton was planning a collected edition when he died and he was certainly aware of the ‘progress’ trope, having
published The Progress of Love, in Four Eclogues, in 1732, long before he courted Lucy Fortescue. In Anderson--the most
likely source for Wordsworth--all the poems ‘To Miss Lucy Fortescue,’ ‘To the Same,’ etc., are assembled in five pages, as
they had been in the first collected edition of 1774, but in the 1785 edition of Lyttelton’s works the marriage group precedes
the courtship one and the epitaph, and in other editions there are similar variations.

What is the point of this resurrection of an old scholarly dispute? Is this a regression to biographical speculation and
source-hunting? On the contrary. I am trying to show that the subdiscipline that we call Textual Studies or History of the Book
may be capable of catching familiar objects in a clear new light. The example of Lyttelton indicates that in the second half of the
eighteenth century, the Golden Age of literary collections and anthologies, poets’ works were subject to editorial ordering and
that narrative could be one of the organizing principles; it was not a discovery of the Victorian period. If that is so, Wordsworth
would have known as he wrote and sorted his own poems that his audience was prepared for such connections, and that the
connections did not have to be explicit or permanent. Even if he had not been aware of the Lucy group in Lyttelton’s work
before he began to publish his own in 1800, he would have understood the convention of grouping: it was what publishers were
doing at the time.

But we can be sure he did know Lyttelton’s group. Another newish approach--intertextuality--encourages us to think of the
two sets of Lucy poems in relation to one another, and of their reciprocal influence. Lyttelton was one of the older generation of
poets that provoked Wordsworth to abandon conventionally polished lyrical expression, and Wordsworth is one of the reasons
that Lyttelton is unread and almost unreadable today. Take, for example, the first poem in Lyttelton’s series, ‘To Miss Lucy
Fortescue.’ It describes the inarticulateness that betrays the true lover:

     Once, by the muse alone inspir’d
     I sung my amorous strains:
     No serious love my bosom fir’d;
     Yet every tender maid, deceiv’d,
     The idly-mournful tale believ’d
     And wept my fancied pains.
     But Venus now, to punish me
     For having feign’d too well,
     Has made my heart so fond of thee,
     That not the whole Aonian choir
     Can accents soft enough inspire,
     Its real flame to tell.

Set this alongside ‘She dwelt among th’untrodden ways,’ and what Wordsworth wrote about Lyttelton’s ‘Epitaph’ in 1810
seems self-evident: ‘there is no under current, no skeleton or stamina, of thought and feeling’; ‘Lord Lyttleton could not have
written in this way upon such a subject, if he had not been seduced by the example of Pope ...’. (4) The classical allusions, the
trite phrasing of ‘amorous strains’ and ‘tender maids’, the compound epithet, even the tidy rhymes had to be discarded.

The biographical and critical preface that introduces Anderson’s selection from Lyttelton’s poems praises the ‘elegance, ease,
and harmony’ of his verse, and declares of the ‘Monody’ that ‘He who can read it without melting into tears, has little claim to
sensibility’. (5) Wordsworth disagreed. His own Lucy poems go to show how sincerity and depth of feeling could be more
convincingly represented by a fresh vocabulary and unostentatious means. They may suggest that one is better off not writing
directly from personal experience: Wordsworth’s Lucy is neither Lucy Lyttelton nor a hitherto unidentified Annette Vallon but,
as critics have said repeatedly, a literary amalgam in which it now seems that Lyttelton’s Lucy played a significant part. The
relation of Wordsworth’s Lucy to Lyttelton’s is far from filial, however. It is corrective--though how self-consciously so we will
never know.

To someone of Wordsworth’s principles, it must have seemed positively reprehensible of Lyttelton to have squandered so
delicate a subject. Wordsworth does not question Lyttelton’s intentions. Elsewhere, he says of him that his ‘feeling heart’ was
‘wholly laid asleep’ by ‘false taste’. (6) Though he objects to the language of the ‘Epitaph,’ he acknowledges that ‘[w]e know
from other evidence that Lord Lyttelton dearly loved his wife.’ What was the ‘other evidence’? Possibly the biographical
preface in Anderson; possibly the ‘Monody,’ which Wordsworth mentions quite respectfully. Possibly just common
knowledge, and this is my final reason for putting forward the claims of Lucy Lyttelton and the group of poems published about

The Lyttelton estate, Hagley Park, was within the Wordsworths’ ambit and they visited it like other tourists, (7) probably more
than once. They would have known from Anderson that Lucy Lyttelton had been buried in Staffordshire, and a monument to
her memory erected in the church at Hagley. Hester Thrale had likewise been at Hagley (with Dr. Johnson) in 1777, just a few
years after Lyttelton’s death. She records an apocryphal local legend that dramatically, even melodramatically, expresses the
depth and endurance of Lyttelton’s devotion. ‘The family Monuments pleased me very much at Hagley,’ she wrote,

     and the Anecdote of Lord Lyttelton taking up the Corpse of his Lucy from some other consecrated Ground, and
     bringing it home to be interr’d with his own, when he found his Death approaching--made me envy even a Corpse
     which was the Subject of such Tenderness-- (8)



(1) Mark Jones, The ‘Lucy Poems’: A Case Study in Literary Knowledge (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995) p.
69; 86; hereafter abbreviated as Jones. (back)

(2) Duncan Wu, Wordsworth’s Reading 1770-1799 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) p. 162. (back)

(3) H. W. Garrod, ‘Wordsworth’s Lucy,’ The Profession of Poetry and Other Lectures (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929)
p. 91. (back)

(4) William Wordsworth, ‘Essay upon Epitaphs, II,’ Prose Works, ed. W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser, 3 vols.
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974) vol. II, p. 75. (back)

(5) George Lyttelton, ‘Poems,’ A Complete Edition of the Poets of Great Britain, ed. Robert Anderson, 13 vols.
(Edinburgh, 1792-5) vol. 10, p. 248. (back)

(6) William Wordsworth, ‘Essay upon Epitaphs, II,’ vol. II, p. 75. (back)

(7) William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Letters II: The Middle Years Part I, 1806-1811, ed. Ernest de Selincourt, 2nd ed.,
rev. Mary Moorman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979) vol. II, p. 419. (back)

(8) Hester Lynch Thrale, Thraliana, ed. Katharine C. Balderston, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1942) vol. I, p. 114.

                                           H. J. Jackson
                                       University of Toronto

                   Copyright (c) The Editor Romanticism On the Net 1999 - All rights reserved

                                  Read / Send comments to The Forum