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A Being More Intense: British Romantic Writers in the Rare Book Collection

The William Wordsworth Collection

Portrait of William Wordsworth (ca. 1837).

The William Wordsworth Collection in the RBC contains the largest concentration of materials related to the British Romantics in Wilson Library. With current holdings of some 875 titles, the collection has been built up since 1960 with income from the endowment established by William Whitaker—used for both individual purchases and important groups of materials, such as the books acquired from English collector Michael Jaye in the mid-1990s—and by a large number of gifts from Mark L. Reed III, Professor Emeritus of English Literature at UNC. Within the current collection, 126 works date from Wordsworth’s lifetime, including first and later editions and variant printings of the poet’s separately published works, periodical appearances, and anthologies in which his poems appear.

Map of the Lake District (1819).

There are numerous outstanding rarities in the Wordsworth Collection, most notably fine copies of both An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, published simultaneously in 1793 by Joseph Johnson, the London bookseller and publisher commonly associated with the liberal avant-garde of the 1790s. The collection also contains a very nice copy of the 1798 London issue of the first edition of Lyrical Ballads, containing some of Wordsworth’s best-known poems as well as the first appearance of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” A dozen or so copies of this book appeared under the imprint of Joseph Cottle in Bristol and are considered by bibliographers to constitute the first issue. Wordsworth and Cottle had agreed, however, that the book should be sold in London; and a second issue thus appeared with a newly printed, “canceled” title page. Excessively rare, the first (Bristol) issue has not been seen on the open market for years, and the RBC is quite pleased to have such a fine copy with the London title page. The Wordsworth Collection also holds a copy of the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (London,1800), expanded to two volumes and containing Wordsworth’s famous preface outlining his views on poetry, since that time considered something of a manifesto of the new poetic movement. Among later works by the poet, there is a fine copy of the first edition of Yarrow Revisited (London, 1835), in its original boards and inscribed by the author.

Wordsworth and Coleridge’s
Lyrical Ballads (1798). Checklist no. 10

In addition to strong holdings of lifetime editions, the collection is especially rich in posthumous appearances of Wordsworth’s writings, whether in collected editions or anthologies. Many of these are finely printed and/or bound, some of them with interesting illustrations, and are of considerable interest to historians of publishing and the book arts. Among the more noteworthy of these works are the three splendid editions of Wordsworth printed by T. J. Cobden-Sanderson at the famous Doves Press in England: A Decade of Years: Poems by William Wordsworth, 1798–1807 (Hammersmith, 1911); The Prelude, an Autobiographical Poem, 1799–1805 (Hammersmith, 1915); and Wordsworth, an Anthology (Hammersmith, 1920). Each bears eloquent witness to the enduring interest in the poet’s writings in the twentieth century. This interest is also reflected in the substantial (but still only very representative) sampling of 150 works about the poet in the collection, more than two-thirds of them gifts of Mark Reed.

Access to materials in the William Wordsworth Collection is provided through the University Library’s online catalog.

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