Drawing extensively upon archival resources and manuscript evidence, Wordsworth Before Coleridge rewrites the early history of Wordsworth’s intellectual development and thereby overturns a century-old consensus that derives his most important philosophical ideas from Coleridge. Beginning with Wordsworth’s mathematical and poetic studies at Hawkshead Grammar School and Cambridge University, both of which tutored the young poet in mind-matter dualism, the book charts the process by which Wordsworth came, not to reject this philosophical foundation, but to reevaluate the indispensable role of passion within it. Prompted by his reading in 1793 or early 1794 of Dugald Stewart’s Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, Wordsworth rejected the exclusive rationality of William Godwin’s political philosophy and the anti-passionate morality of Alexander Pope’s philosophical poetics. Subsequent exposure, between 1795 and 1797, to Cambridge Platonism and English Kantianism supplied the key ideas of mind-nature fitness and multilevel psychological activity that, along with Stewart’s analysis of imaginative association, animate Wordsworth’s signature philosophy of "feeling intellect," from the initial drafts of The Pedlar and The Prelude in 1798 to the "Prospectus" to The Recluse and The Excursion, published together in 1814. By presenting for the first time a fully nuanced account of Wordsworth’s intellectual formation prior to the advent of Coleridge as his close companion and creative collaborator, Wordsworth Before Coleridge reveals at long last the true sources and abiding originality of the poet’s philosophical mind.
‘Written with extraordinary clarity and precision, argued with nuance and discrimination, this book establishes the qualifications Wordsworth had in 1796 to be equally reverenced, as Coleridge put it, "whether I regarded him as a poet, a philosopher, or a man", and to be asked, as he was, to adjudicate on matters of philosophical argument. Exploring a variety of constituents in his thinking, ranging from Descartes to Dugald Stewart, Cudworth and early periodical expositions of Kant, it contests the notion that Wordsworth was "a student of Coleridgean philosophy rather than philosophy per se". Crucially, it shows with exactitude that much (by no means all) of the philosophy of mind developed in The Pedlar and The Prelude originates in the 1794 revisions of An Evening Walk. This book deserves a wide and grateful audience for its ground-breaking argument, and if the profession is as open to illumination as it ought to be, it will have a revolutionary effect on the reception of Wordsworth's powers of thought.’ —Richard Gravil, Chairman of The Wordsworth Conference Foundation and author of Wordsworth’s Bardic Vocation
A Note on Texts and Citations
Chapter One: An Independent Mind? Wordsworth at Cambridge, 1787-1791
Chapter Two: Growing Out of Pope: An Essay on Man in Wordsworth’s Philosophical Poetry, 1785-1794
Chapter Three: Beyond Godwin: Elements in Wordsworth’s Politics, 1794
Chapter Four: Toward The Prelude: Elements in An Evening Walk, 1794
Chapter Five: The Finishing of Wordsworth’s Philosophical Education, 1795-1797