Wordsworth's account in the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads of the groundbreaking nature of his rustic poetics has long served as foundational to our understanding of Romanticism. Yet his representation of "the public taste in this country" in 1800 elided the presence of a decades-long tradition of "peasant" and "working-class" poetry in Britain. Figures like Stephen Duck ("The Thresher Poet"), Robert Burns, and Ann Yearsley ("The Bristol Milkwoman") had been the focus of fashionable critical interest because they were seen as embodying the very values of simplicity and rustic authenticity that Wordsworth claimed were absent from the contemporary scene. Though a review of this context exposes Wordsworth to charges of solipsism and historical repression, it also helps us to imagine how the pervasiveness of peasant verse complicated his efforts to establish himself as a legitimate conduit for rusticism and "the real language of men." While Wordsworth did not have to create a taste for rural subjects and pseudo-humble diction, he faced the more difficult task of creating a vital rustic verse that was distinct from peasant poetry. In staging confrontations between educated narrators and uneducated subjects, several poems of the 1798 Lyrical Ballads, including "The Thorn" and "Simon Lee," dramatize Wordsworth's historical dilemma as a gentlemanly chronicler of "low and rustic life." Through these experiments in narratorial perspective, class identification, and social sympathy, Wordsworth establishes both the contemporaneity and the innovation of his poetic project.
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