"More Tranquil Sympathies" of The Ruined Cottage: An Argument for a Stoic Elegy


This essay is to understand The Ruined Cottage as an elegy of Stoicism. Wordsworth revised The Ruined Cottage many times until it was published as the Book I of The Excursion  in 1814, but it was between February and November of 1799 that Wordsworth reformulated a pathetic story of weaver’s wife into an elegy for Margaret. The timing is very important because it exactly coincides with the period during which “the advertisement” of the first edition Lyrical Ballads was expanded into “the Preface” of 1800. My argument is that the presiding idea behind the revision of The Ruined Cottage into an elegy is the same as that of Wordsworth’s “advertisement,”  and that the new Wordsworthian  poetics working behind both revisions came mainly from the Stoic philosophy that he had read at Hawkhead and Cambridge. In the first part of the essay, I will explain the new logic of lamentation of MS. D in terms of its rejection of sensationalism which is condensedly articulated as “sympathies more tranquil.” In the second section, I will go on to show that the pedlar’s own lamentation based on such “sympathies more tranquil” was driven by the same moral purpose as that of the 1800 Preface which was to deliver the reading public from their benumbed sensibilities or “the savage torpor.” In the third and final part, I will argue that such moral purpose was in fact very much inspired by the stoic philosophy Wordsworth had been familiar with ever since his early school days.

Key Words: The Ruined Cottage, elegy, The Preface to Lyrical Ballads, sympathy, morality, Stoicism

In/Out 44(2018)


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