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A poem in nine books by W. Wordsworth, published 1814. This is the middle section of a projected three‐part poem ‘on man, on nature and on human life’, of which this part alone was completed. The whole work was to have been entitled ‘The Recluse’, ‘as having for its principal subject the sensations and opinions of a poet living in retirement’. It was planned in 1798, when Wordsworth was living near Coleridge at Alfoxden.

The story is very slight. The poet, travelling with the Wanderer, a philosophic pedlar, meets with the pedlar's friend, the sad and pessimistic Solitary. The source of the Solitary's despondency is found in his want of religious faith and of confidence in the virtue of man, and he is reproved with gentle and persuasive argument. The Pastor is then introduced, who illustrates the harmonizing effects of virtue and religion through narratives of people interred in his churchyard. They visit the Pastor's house, and the Wanderer draws his general and philosophic conclusions from the discussions that have passed. The last two books deal in particular with the industrial expansion of the early part of the century, and the degradation that followed in its train. The poem ends with the Pastor's prayer that man may be given grace to conquer guilt and sin, and with praise for the beauty of the world about them. Bk I contains ‘The Story of Margaret’ or ‘The Ruined Cottage’, originally written as a separate poem.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

William Wordsworth (1770—1850) poet

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