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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: February 2020

Introduction

Summary

From the row of first editions in The Jerwood Centre at the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere, the curator, lovingly takes down one of his favourite items. It is not much to look at, a slim volume still in its original card covers; cheap stained covers that should have been removed and thrown away when it was bound in leather to match the designs of a gentleman’s library. The curator tells the paradoxical tale of an object so ordinary that it has become a rarity; the book whose pages remain untrimmed; the book that can never be read: a first edition of Lyrical Ballads (1798). But Lyrical Ballads has always been a volume of paradoxes, from its contradictory title, to the tensions between poems and prose, to the variable accounts by its two authors of its aims and origins, to the difficulty readers have with grasping how such slight poems can be accorded such high status. Perhaps it is just this sense of it – as something unable to be quite pinned down – that has made this unassuming volume such a major, lasting work of British Romanticism.