William Wordsworth 
(1770-1850)
The Prelude : Book VII : Residence in London

Wordsworth and Coleridge
Wordsworth and Coleridge, his philosophical dancing master

Book VII Residence in London

Lines 1-48 He reflects on the fact that he began the poem five years ago (it is now October 1804) with a surge of creative energy, but that the stream stopped. Coleridge had left England in April 1804, and, despite his best resolves, the work progressed but slowly, but then, around sunset, he heard a 'little Band, / A Quire of Redbreasts .... Minstrels from the distant woods / And dells...' He makes another resolve:

Lines 35-38
We will be
Ye heartsome Choristers, ye and I will be
Brethren, and in the hearing of bleak winds
Will chaunt together.

He then sees a glow-worm, and:

Lines 42-48
Silence touched me here
No less than sound had done before, the Child
Of Summer, lingering, shining by itself,
The voiceless Worm on the unfrequented hills,
Seemed sent on the same errand with the Quire
Of winter that had warbled at my door,
And the whole year seemed tenderness and love.

Lines 48-57 The previous evening's mood is still with him in the morning, and he repairs to his 'favourite Grove, / Now tossing its dark boughs in sun and wind..' which fits him for the Poet's task.

Lines 57-80 He feels that he has some time to kill, and decides to set himself up in a house in London. He has extravagant ideas about the place, and is disappointed when his friend, after a sojourn in London, gives no good account of his experiences.

Spitalfields from A Microcosm of London
Spitalfields from A Microcosm of London, Ackermann

Lines 121-206 He describes the bustle of London.

Lines 208-224 He describes characters seen on London streets.

London characters
London characters, Rowlandson

Lines 226-244 He describes the racial mix seen on the streets.

Lines 245-280 He describes various painted scenes of foreign lands and sights.

Lines 281-310 He describes various spectacles he has seen, including Sadler's Wells.

Sadler's Wells
Sadler's Wells with the New River (Canal)

Lines 311-346 He describes some dramas on offer in the metropolis, including the Maid of Buttermere (Mary Robinson), who was personally known to both him and Coleridge.

Maid of Buttermere, Rowlandson
The Maid of Buttermere, Rowlandson

Lines 347-412 He comments on the nature of this type of life-drama to which we become inured as we get older:

Lines 360-365
These feelings, in themselves
Trite, do yet scarcely seem so when I think
Of those ingenuous moments of our youth,
Ere yet by use we have learned to slight the crimes
And sorrows of the world.

He recounts the story of an exceptionally beautiful child who:

Lines 382-391
Upon a Board
Whence an attendant of the Theatre
Served out refreshments, had this Child been placed
And there he sate, environed with a Ring
Of chance Spectators, chiefly dissolute men
And shameless women; treated and caressed,
Ate, drank, and with the fruit and glasses played,
While oaths, indecent speech, and ribaldry
Were rife about him as are songs of birds
In spring-time after showers.

He speculates that perhaps this beautiful child, as he grew older, may have envied the fate of Mary Robinson's baby.

Lines 412-436 He comments on 'Woman as she is to open shame / Abandoned' seen for the first time:

Lines 428-436
Distress of mind ensued upon this sight
And ardent meditation; afterwards
A milder sadness of such spectacles
Attended; thought, commiseration, grief
For the individual, and the overthrow
Of her soul's beauty; farther at that time
Than this I was but seldom led; in truth
The sorrow of the passion stopped me there.

Prostitutes, Rowlandson

Lines 436-488 He comments further on the theatre and its magic for a young man:

Lines 465-474
Through the night,
Between the show, and many-headed mass
Of the Spectators, and each little nook
That had its fray or brawl, how eagerly,
And with what flashes, as it were, the mind
Turned this way, that way! sportive and alert
And watchful as a kitten when at play,
While winds are blowing round her, among grass
And rustling leaves.

Lines 489-517 He remarks that perhaps the current subject matter would appear to be 'neither dignified enough nor arduous' for a poem such as this, but comments further that it is 'not to be despised / By those who have observed the curious props / By which these perishable hours of life / Rest on each other, and the world of thought / Exists and is sustained.' Effectively this matter serves as a contrast to the 'Poet's beauteous world'.

Lines 517-543 He comments on those other theatres, of politics and the law, amusingly terminating:

Lines 537-543
Marvellous!
The enchantment spreads and rises; all are rapt
Astonished; like a Hero in Romance
He winds away his never-ending horn;
Words follow words, sense seems to follow sense;
What memory and what logic! till the Strain
Transcendent, superhuman as it is,
Grows tedious even in a young man's ear.

Lines 543-566 A satirical sketch of a preacher.

Lines 567-589 He lashes the folly and vice found everywhere.

Lines 589-624 Among the crowd of unreal images presented to him by the metropolis, he remembers one man, a beggar:

Lines 613-624
..who, with upright face,
Stood propped against a Wall, upon his Chest
Wearing a written paper, to explain
The story of the Man, and who he was.
My mind did at this spectacle turn round
As with the might of waters, and it seemed
To me that in this Label was a type,
Or emblem, of the utmost that we know,
Both of ourselves and of the universe;
And, on the shape of the unmoving man,
His fixd face, and sightless eyes, I looked
As if admonished from another world.

Lines 624-696 He describes Bartholomew Fair.

Bartholomew Fair, Rowlandson
Bartholomew Fair, Rowlandson

Lines 696-741 Despite the fact that he sees all this activity as expressions of 'The slaves unrespited of low pursuits, / Living amid the same perpetual flow / Of trivial objects ..' , he nevertheless sees that:

Lines 708-714
But though the picture weary out the eye,
By nature an unmanageable sight,
It is not wholly so to him who looks
In steadiness, who hath among least things
An under-sense of greatest; sees the parts
As parts, but with a feeling of the whole.

And finally:

Lines 735-741
The Spirit of Nature was upon me here;
The Soul of Beauty and enduring life
Was present as a habit, and diffused,
Through meagre lines and colours, and the press
Of self-destroying, transitory things,
Composure and ennobling harmony.

book V

book VI

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