Recollections of the Lake Poets
Recollections of the Lake Poets is a collection of biographical essays written by the English author Thomas De Quincey. In these essays, originally published in Tait's Edinburgh Magazine between 1834 and 1840, De Quincey provided some of the earliest, best informed, and most candid accounts of the Lake Poets, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey, and others in their circle. Together, the essays "form one of the most entertaining of Lakeland books."
De Quincey wrote from direct personal familiarity, having known all three men during the first two decades of the nineteenth century. When he wrote about them twenty years later, De Quincey ignored the constraints and repressions typical of biography in his era, to produce realistic and nuanced portraits. He "certainly made many of his subjects live in the mind of the reader as few others of their biographers have been able to do. The racy, gossipy tone that often prevails makes these works eminently readable; indeed, Tait's Magazine never sold better than when De Quincey's literary reminiscences were appearing in it."
De Quincey was the first person to address the problem of plagiarism in Coleridge's works, a problem that would be ignored or neglected for a century and a half, until modern scholars addressed it in detail.
The degree of candor that De Quincey brought to his portraits of people who were then still living or recently dead was extremely rare, if not unprecedented, in contemporaneous literature and journalism, and provoked strong negative reactions. In the mid-1830s, when the essays were being published, Southey called him "a calumniator, cowardly spy, traitor, base betrayer of the hospitable social hearth" and "one of the greatest scoundrels living!"
Some interested parties, however, responded more calmly. Coleridge's daughter Sarah found De Quincey's treatment of her father to be insightful and generally fair.
De Quincey wrote about the figures of the "Lake School," especially Wordsworth and Coleridge, repeatedly throughout his canon. The essays that make up the collection are primarily these (each year links to its corresponding "[year] in poetry" article):
- "Samuel Taylor Coleridge," Tait's Magazine, September through November 1834 and January 1835
- "A Letter to William Wordsworth," August 1835
- "William Wordsworth," January, February, and April 1839
- "William Wordsworth and Robert Southey," July 1839
- "Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge," August 1839
- "Recollections of Grasmere," September 1839
- "The Saracen's Head," December 1839
- "Westmoreland and the Dalesmen," January 1840
- "Society of the Lakes, I, II, and III," January, March, and June 1840
After their initial publication, several of the essays appeared in the second volume of Selections Grave and Gay (1854), the first British collected edition of De Quincey's works. For that edition, the author edited his essays, trimming some passages but adding others. The essays were reprinted again in a separate volume, as Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets (1862); that title may or may not have originated with De Quincey.
There were three twentieth-century editions of the essays. Edward Sackville-West's Recollections of the Lake Poets (1948) and John E. Jordan's Reminiscences of the English Lake Poets (1961) both relied primarily upon the 1854 revised texts; for his 1970 edition, David Wright returned to the original magazine texts and to the title of the 1862 collection.
- Grevel Lindop, The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas De Quincey, London, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1981; p. 296.
- Judson S. Lyon, Thomas De Quincey, New York, Twayne, 1969; pp. 107-8.
- Norman Fruman, Coleridge: The Damaged Archangel, New York, George Braziller, 1971.
- Lyon, p. 112.
- Thomas De Quincey, Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets, Edited with an Introduction by David Wright, New York, Penguin, 1970; pp. 28-9.