This study is a much-needed reappraisal of Wordsworth's and Coleridge's radical careers before their emergence as major poets. Dr Roe presents a detailed examination of both writers' debts to radical dissent in the years before 1789.
Wordsworth's first-hand experience of Revolution in France is treated in depth, and both Wordsworth's and Coleridge's relations with William Godwin and John Thelwall are clarified. In each case the poets are shown to have been vividly alive to radical issues in Britain and France, and much more closely involved with the popular reform movement represented by the London Corresponding Society than has hitherto been suspected.
The author argues against any generalized pattern of withdrawal from politics into retirement after 1795. He offers instead a reading of Lyrical Ballads, The Prelude, and The Recluse that emphasizes the integration of imaginative life and radical experience. For Coleridge the loss of revolutionary idealism prefigured the collapse of his creative and personal life after 1798. For Wordsworth, on the other hand, revolutionary failure was the key to his emergence as poet of Tintern Abbey and The Prelude.