Featuring an extended introduction by scholar of British Romanticism, Alan Vardy, Fragments consists of Wordsworth’s philosophico-aesthetic prose fragment “The Sublime & the Beautiful” and “Hawkshead & the Ferry.” While a fragmented text, unfinished, almost certainly abandoned by the author, the difficulties of the former text no longer appear fatal so much as evidence of Wordsworth’s rigorous struggle to come to terms not only with his own aesthetic experiences, but with the philosophical aesthetics of his epoch. What were once read as confusions may now be seen as productive of complex accounts of lived affective experiences. In critical terms, current aesthetic occupations have perhaps finally found Wordsworth’s text. By placing the prose fragment in a separate appendix, the original editors of Wordsworth’s Prose Works removed it from its actual place in The Unpublished Tour. New analysis of the manuscripts reveals that “The Sublime & the Beautiful” is actually part of the Tour.
In reprinting the “Hawkshead & the Ferry” section of the Tour, our edition restores this original context, lost in the standard Oxford edition. The prose fragment begins in the precise place where “Hawkshead & the Ferry” ends — on the west side of Windermere looking north to the Langdale pikes. Were the missing pages of “The Sublime & the Beautiful” to be recovered, the transition from picturesque viewpoint to speculation on the philosophical status of that view would be apparent. Understanding the significance of our affective response to natural objects could not be more central to a Wordsworthian poetics predicated on the internalization of aesthetic sensations into perceptions and ideas, associations of one kind or another, and finally into the very stuff of the poetry. Fragmented or not, this prose treatise on a subject of such centrality to the poet’s project can no longer be ignored. It is this general neglect that the present text hopes to address by publishing these fragments on their own for the very first time.