Doug Henwood wrote:
> Chris Doss wrote:
> >And that, of course, is why Byron was adored in Europe
> >but snubbed in England and America. He was everything
> >Wordsworth's gang was not. They were utterly
> >humorless-a Romanticist once told me that "there are
> >three jokes in Wordsworth, or so they say:but I can't
> >recall them."
> I think Geoffrey Hartman found one in The Prelude, around the
> crossing of the Alps passage, but now I can't recall it. Oh, and The
> Leech Gatherer is pretty funny.
I'm surprised Harman did not mention the passage on youthful cardplaying in Book 1 (2?) of The Prleude. Very skillful interaction with the game of Ombre in The Rape of the Lock. And if readers decide in advance that a writer is "humorless," then they find humor only if it is virtually a pie in the face. Suppressing preconceptions, take a look (1850 text) of the opening lines of Book III (arrival at Cambridge), lines which Arnold saw as humorless but on which de Selincourt (seeing playfulness) was surely right:
It was a dreary morning when the wheels
Rolled over a wide plain o'erhung with clouds,
And nothing cheered our way till first we saw
The long-roofed chapel of King's College lift
Turrets and pinnacles in answering files,
Extended high above a dusky grove.
Surely the plains of Troy with its mighty pinnacles are not far from Wordsworth's musings here. And "dusky grove" in a poet supersensitive to "poetic diction"! And then he continues:
Advancing, we espied upon the road
A student clothed in gown and tasselled cap,
Striding along as if o'ertasked by Time,
Or covetous of exercise and air. . . .
The drop from (upper case) Time to being "covetous" of exercise. Wonderful. It was for these two lines that I chose to use the edition of 1850 rather than 1805, though the latter is usually better.
Perhaps Wordsworth goes well with age. For some 50 years I saw found his work quite easy to ignore, but eight years ago on a whim I picked up the Norton edition of The Prelude off the shelf a Barnes & Noble, and on another whim two years ago began to read that poem in the 1805 text. I was and remain enraptured.
Wordsworth was not a standup comedian, but then neither was Byron exactly; also absence of jokes does not necessarily coincide with "humorlessnes" nor skill a cracking jokes coincide with whatever it is we call a "sense of humor." When he heard the news of Waterloo, Byron said something like "It's a damn shame."
None of this is said in desparagement of Byron; his Don Juan is one of the most wonderful things ever written.
P.S. I don't know whether any critic has attempted to defend the following lines from "The Thorn" (in description of the grave of a young girl). Here I doubt that the humor was intended, and he did change the lines I believe after Coleridge had objected:
'Twas three feet long and two feet wide,
I measured it from side to side.