Keepsake

Published:

In early 1828, Wordsworth was in need of more money than he was getting from the proceeds of his own books' sales. Though he had expressed contempt for the annuals, and was to do so again, Wordsworth accepted the offer from Reynolds, who was to edit the volume, of 100 guineas for providing 12 pages of verse for The Keepsake.1 "The Country Girl" is one of those pages. Reynolds later pointed out that Wordsworth's writings in the volume were half-a-page short of 12, but Wordsworth refused to supply more because Reynolds had declined to print four of Wordsworth's sonnets that had been submitted for the purpose. From the outset of the novel, Shelley depicts the monster as having an obsession with not only reading but with language itself. Before the monster learns how to read, he learns how to speak: "[language] was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it” (p). Just as the monster uses literature to examine his estranged role, his engagement with language mirrors this learning process: "I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of these sounds, and was able to pronounce them. I distinguished several other words, without being able as yet to understand or apply them; such as good, dearest, unhappy” (p). From the outset of the novel, Shelley depicts the monster as having an obsession with not only reading but with language itself. Before the monster learns how to read, he learns how to speak: "[language] was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it” (p). Just as the monster uses literature to examine his estranged role, his engagement with language mirrors this learning process: "I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of these sounds, and was able to pronounce them. I distinguished several other words, without being able as yet to understand or apply them; such as good, dearest, unhappy” (p). Then the proprietor Charles Heath indicated that he might pay Wordsworth the promised 100 guineas over a prolonged period--it might take 20 years for Wordsworth to receive the 100 guineas--and Wordsworth, angered about the money, stopped supplying writings to the Keepsake.2 From the beginning of the negotiations, according to Dora Wordsworth, William Wordsworth had viewed the Keepsake and his contribution as "degrading" (see our Introduction). The pretend-game of "The Country Girl" involves disguising this degrading act as an ennobling one.

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As per the custom of the Keepsake, Heath supplied Wordsworth with a picture that was to appear (in an engraving) with the poem that Wordsworth was hired to write for the purpose. From the outset of the novel, Shelley depicts the monster as having an obsession with not only reading but with language itself. Before the monster learns how to read, he learns how to speak: "[language] was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it” (p). Just as the monster uses literature to examine his estranged role, his engagement with language mirrors this learning process: "I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of these sounds, and was able to pronounce them. I distinguished several other words, without being able as yet to understand or apply them; such as good, dearest, unhappy” (p). From the outset of the novel, Shelley depicts the monster as having an obsession with not only reading but with language itself. Before the monster learns how to read, he learns how to speak: "[language] was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it” (p). Just as the monster uses literature to examine his estranged role, his engagement with language mirrors this learning process: "I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of these sounds, and was able to pronounce them. I distinguished several other words, without being able as yet to understand or apply them; such as good, dearest, unhappy” (p). The problem of simulation (and inauthenticity) is many-layered and profound: the signature on the engraving indicates that "The Country Girl" was painted by J. Holmes and engraved by Charles Heath; but engravings in the Keepsake that were signed in that way were not necessarily engraved by Heath--as we have pointed out in our Introduction, John Heath observes that another engraving in The Keepsake for 1829, the frontispiece engraving of Mrs. Peel, "bears the signature of Charles Heath, but a very early proof copy is lettered in manuscript: 'Lane reduced, Goodyear etchd [sic] figure, Webb etchd fur and feathers, J. H. Watt drapery and hat, Rhodes worked up hat feathers, D. Smith background, and C. Heath flesh.'"3 Already, the engraving The Country Girl simulates a painting that simulates a country girl, and the questionable engraving presents a questionable attribution to Heath as the simulator of the painterly simulator.4 Evidently Wordsworth, then, for money, feigns feeling about the whole thing.

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The difference or continuity of this scenario of simulation with the method and meaning of Wordsworth's other poems is a matter for important critical reflection. Peter J. Manning suggests that Wordsworth's overtly commercial engagement with the Keepsake "represents less apostasy from an earlier purity than a manifestation of an investment in the literary market present from the beginning of his career."5 The Keepsake for 1829 provides a field that frames or even imparts meaning to "The Country Girl." In a collection of poems by William Wordsworth, his poem's meanings would be framed by his own other works; here, others' work frames (determines) the meanings of Wordsworth poem.

Of course, the focus on a particular work of art also determines the meanings of Wordsworth's poem. The first six lines form a blazon, enumerating several body parts of the "Country Girl" --eyes, "Those locks," "thy brow," "That cheek," "That lip." These lines are emphatically set off from what follows by their versification: after a tetrameter couplet, a trimeter line introduces an envelope quatrain that ends in another trimeter line. Nothing of the sort appears again in the poem, which is composed entirely of tetrameter lines from this point to the poem's end, all in couplets except that (in paragraph two) "flowers" makes an envelope with "bowers," and "share" is separated from its rhyme ("prayer") by four lines.